Matthew Holst/Getty Images
Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight confers with head coach Jim Harbaugh during a 14-13 loss to Iowa in November 2016.

Michigan football mailbag: How QB Wilton Speight has improved, Michigan’s toughest road games, what about Florida’s quarterbacks?

Rachel Lenzi

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Land of 10 kicks off its weekly Michigan mailbag, which will answer reader questions about the Wolverines football program.

The first edition of the mailbag answers questions primarily about quarterbacks. In particular, readers ask about the health of Michigan’s Wilton Speight, who sustained a shoulder injury in November in a loss at Iowa, and what he’s done to prepare for the 2017 season, which opens Sept. 2 against Florida in Arlington, Texas. We also get a question about Florida’s quarterback competition,  because Michigan isn’t the only school with talent at the position.

The mailbag will answer your Michigan questions each Thursday — I’ll ask for questions on Twitter (@RLenziCMG or @Landof10MICH), and we’ll also pull them from our Facebook page.

From Facebook, Jayson Hackbarth asks: What has Wilton Speight done to improve his game this year?

Speight became more lean, losing more than 20 pounds during the offseason. We’ll let Speight, who met with the media Wednesday night, answer this himself:

“I just got really strict with my diet, only really ate animals and things from the ground,” Speight said. “I stayed away from the processed foods, stuff like that. And became really strict with it and upped the cardio a little bit.

“I feel a lot quicker coming from under center, being able to finesse around the pocket and maybe get more than 2 or 3 yards like I did last year.”

From Twitter,

Speight said earlier this summer that his left shoulder — injured Nov. 12 in a 14-13 loss at Iowa — “is back to 100 percent.”

We’ve seen Speight throw live only three times since that injury:

  • Ohio State: 23-36 passing, 219 yards and two touchdowns, intercepted twice, sacked twice
  • Florida State: 21-38 passing for 163 yards and a touchdown, intercepted once, sacked four times
  • Spring game: 9-26 passing, 78 yards, intercepted twice, sacked three times

His shaky spring game performance, combined with Brandon Peters’ steadiness in that same game, gave many pause in regards to Michigan’s 2017 quarterbacks competition.

The Detroit Free Press reported in June that Speight underwent an unspecified surgery, and when asked about it at a summer camp, Speight claimed that he couldn’t remember whether he had surgery on his left shoulder.

Injuries — and surgeries — need time to heal, so it’s likely that Speight was not at 100 percent for Michigan’s spring game. Speight also may have still been learning to work with assistant head coach/passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton, who was less than three months on the job. Or he may have simply been pushed enough by Peters in the spring.

Regardless, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said last week that Speight and John O’Korn have “created a little bit of separation. They’re battling now.”

This bodes well for Speight. We’ll find out exactly where he stands playing-wise if he gets the nod to start Sept. 2 against Florida.

From Facebook, Tim Mervine asks: Who is our starting QB?

I wish we had a concrete answer for that, but neither Harbaugh nor Speight or O’Korn are saying much. Harbaugh said last week that Speight and O’Korn have created separation from the rest of the quarterbacking pack. That counts out Peters, who had a stellar spring game, and freshman Dylan McCaffrey, who is expected to redshirt this season.

But let’s take an educated guess: It’s Wilton Speight.

Speight, however, has a challenge in front of him this season. He has to be consistent. He averaged 211.5 yards a game in 12 games in 2016, but his production zig-zagged in those games, peaking at 362 yards against Maryland and dropping to 103 yards a week later against Iowa.

(We’re discounting his 100 yards against Rutgers, because Speight only played in the first half of the 78-0 win.)

Harbaugh noted another key qualifier for whoever will start this fall for Michigan, and that’s having command of the offense.

“It’s just a process of knowing where all your players are and figuring out what the defense is trying to do to you or take away or give you or where they’re more vulnerable, being able to move the team in and out of the huddle, and make reminders is always another one,” Harbaugh said. “If a guy has good command of the offense, he’ll be able to give other guys reminders, the running back or the fullback or a wide receiver or a tight end. He’s got it on the tip of his tongue and he just knows it cold. That’s having command of the offense.”

From Facebook, Jon Clements asks: What is the toughest road game this year?

Three immediately come to mind, and I’ll list them in chronological order:

  • vs. Florida, Sept. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
  • at Penn State, Oct. 21
  • at Wisconsin, Nov. 18

It’s only been in the last two years that Michigan has proven itself as a team that can win on the road. Michigan is 7-5 in road and neutral-site games in the last two years, but was 2-3 last year away from Michigan Stadium

Michigan opens in a neutral-site game against Florida, which will be an immediate yardstick to show exactly where the Wolverines are in development, and what kind of progress they have made during spring practices and the preseason. They also have to perform in an NFL stadium, in front of at least  80,000 spectators, against an strong SEC program.

Penn State and Wisconsin fall into the category of “hostile environments.” Not because they are hostile, per se, but Penn State has designated its game against Michigan as a “white-out” game (meaning spectators will wear white) and many project this to be a night game. Plus, Michigan faces a Penn State team that’s a favorite to win the Big Ten East division and likely wants to avenge Michigan’s 49-10 drubbing from last September in Ann Arbor.

Michigan plays at Wisconsin a week before it hosts Ohio State in its regular-season finale. Michigan visits Camp Randall Stadium, which can be an intimidating and overwhelming environment, for the first time since 2009. In the second-to-last week of the regular season, a team is likely at a point where it is dealing with injuries and fatigue, a common late-season occurrence. Michigan will have to be on its toes not just for Wisconsin and for Ohio State, but through the course of November.

From Facebook, Vince Sacco asks: What’s the status of Florida’s quarterbacks?

We’ll ask for an assist from our Florida writers at SECCountry.com, who wrote Wednesday about Florida’s quarterbacks.

Florida is essentially in the same position as Michigan. Gators coach Jim McElwain won’t say who will be his quarterback for the season opener against Michigan. It’s a three-man competition between graduate transfer Malik Zaire, formerly of Notre Dame; Feleipe Franks, a redshirt freshman, and Luke Del Rio, Florida’s 2016 starter who is also the son of Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio.

SEC Country’s Ryan Young wrote this of the Gators quarterbacks earlier this week: “There is a legitimately tight contest between graduate transfer Malik Zaire, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and 2016 starter Luke Del Rio.”

SEC Country Florida also covered Florida’s quarterbacks in its latest podcast.