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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that Wilton Speight will remain as the Wolverines' starting quarterback.

Michigan football mailbag: QB Wilton Speight tunes out the criticism, Rashan Gary’s output and using multiple tight ends

Rachel Lenzi

Have Michigan football questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Thursday for the Land of 10 Michigan mailbag to talk all things Wolverines. This week, we’ll discuss if quarterback Wilton Speight will be affected by the outside criticism, if defensive end Rashan Gary will be productive in the pass rush and why we’re seeing Michigan use multiple tight ends.

Will Wilton Speight be motivated by all the negative criticism?

Speight is going to tune out the criticism and focus on the task of improving himself on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. One of the toughest things for an athlete to do is to tune out the criticism, especially nowadays, when you have it coming at you not just from the stands, but through your social media channels.

Being the starting quarterback is one of the toughest jobs in football, next to head coach. The QB is the on-field face of the program. The quarterback is also the easiest target for ire. It takes a thick-skinned person to be a quarterback, and to do it well. (both be a quarterback and be thick-skinned.)

Michigan hasn’t made Speight available this week, so we can’t get a direct gauge of him. But in the past, he’s talked about the value of tunnel vision, of tuning out the static as a competitor. Furthermore, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh advocated for Speight on Monday. Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said Wednesday that Michigan makes a point to block out the outside criticism. “We keep everything inside,” Drevno said.

Michigan center Patrick Kugler said it best about Speight on Monday.

“Nothing’s going to faze him,” Kugler said. “He doesn’t care what people think about him. He’s going to go out there and give his best, every day.”

Will Rashan Gary will get a sack this game? I don’t think he’s gotten one yet.

Marico Brown checked in on our Wednesday Facebook Live and asked about Gary, who actually has half a sack, registered in Michigan’s 33-17 win against Florida in its season opener. In Michigan’s first two games, Gary has 7 tackles and 2 quarterback hurries — and keep in mind we’re only entering the third week of the season.

Progress, though, isn’t just measured in statistics. Many expected Gary to be a monster on the defensive line, with many of the summer accolades he received. While Gary hasn’t gotten the sacks, he has helped the defensive line be effective as a whole.

Michigan has 10 sacks for a loss of 58 yards in its first two games, including 6 against Florida. Believe it or not, a linebacker leads Michigan in sacks: Khaleke Hudson, with 3.

Michigan hasn’t used the tight ends much this year. Is it due to losing talent (Jake Butt) or is it more play-calling?

A good question from Brian Yonkoski, submitted through our Monday Facebook Live session. Michigan has used four tight ends this season, as much by design as by default. Michigan doesn’t have the sort of prodigious talent that it had in Jake Butt, now with the Denver Broncos. Much in the way there’s no way to replace a player like Jabrill Peppers on defense, it’s a tough task to replace a player like Butt in the offense, a well-rounded tight end who could catch, block and score.

Michigan evaluated what returned at the position, and added a tight ends coach in Greg Frey, with former TE coach Jay Harbaugh moving to running backs. During preseason camp, tight end Zach Gentry said Frey brought more “tips and tricks” in the run-blocking game, and the tight ends have placed more of an emphasis on pass protection.

But as far as production? The numbers are promising, two games into the season. Four Michigan tight ends have accounted for 147 of Michigan’s 439 passing yards, on 10 of Michigan’s 29 catches.

Player Receptions Yards
Nick Eubanks 2 61
Zach Gentry 2 41
Sean McKeon 5 38
Tyrone Wheatley 1 7

Tight ends were also a factor when Michigan needed a jump in its offense in the second half in its win against Cincinnati. Speight found Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon for a pair of second-down passes that sparked a drive that resulted in Grant Perry’s 33-yard touchdown catch with three minutes left in the second quarter.

When will we see Dylan McCaffrey get some reps?

Toddelle Darby asked this question on one of our Facebook Live sessions. If Michigan sticks to its plans for developing quarterbacks, we may not see Dylan McCaffrey play until 2018 — when he will be a redshirt freshman.

Michigan doesn’t keep a depth chart, but a hierarchy has been set for the quarterbacks this year:

1. Wilton Speight
2. John O’Korn
3. Brandon Peters

Michigan redshirted Peters last year to give him a year to get adjusted to the college game and to college life, and to learn Michigan’s playbook. This is likely what Michigan is doing with McCaffrey this season, and will likely do with Joe Milton, a recruit from Orlando, when he joins the team in the fall of 2018.

What’s going on with Donovan Peoples-Jones?

Michael Rudnicki submitted this question on Facebook. Peoples-Jones came to Michigan as a highly-touted wide receiver out of Detroit’s Cass Tech, and enrolled in January. Peoples-Jones has an extremely high upside, but in the case of newcomers, he also has a lot of youth and inexperience — and those aren’t bad things.

Michigan’s coaching staff saw a lot of promise, a lot of talent and a lot of room for growth when they recruited and landed Peoples-Jones. They also had a plan for him. Seeing him play on special teams isn’t a surprise. This is how Michigan gives its players experience: begin them on special teams.

Sticking Peoples-Jones in at punt returner as a freshman is a lofty task, but there’s also a few things a punt returner has to do: he has to be a quarterback on special teams. He has to call for the ball. He has to wave others off or order them to be in certain spots on the field.

The only way for Peoples-Jones to truly grasp this is by doing this in a game — and the first home game at Michigan Stadium was a cauldron for him.

Michigan clearly isn’t giving up on Peoples-Jones. Harbaugh said Monday night on his weekly radio show that he’ll continue to return punts. “He’s not an error repeater,” Harbaugh said.

About the rankings …

We got a question last week about rankings, and where I specifically ranked Michigan, so each week I’m going to throw a bonus in the mailbag and include my rankings for the Football Writers Association of America/National Football Foundation Super 16 poll and the Land of 10 Power Poll. Check the end of each weekly mailbag for my ballot.

FWAA/NFF Super 16 ballot Land of 10 Power Poll
1. Alabama 1. Penn State
2. Oklahoma 2. Michigan
3. Clemson 3. Ohio State
4. Penn State 4. Wisconsin
5. USC 5. Maryland
6. Michigan 6. Iowa
7. Ohio State 7. Minnesota
8. Florida State 8. Nebraska
9. Washington 9. Michigan State
10. Oklahoma State 10. Purdue
11. Wisconsin 11. Northwestern
12. Georgia 12. Indiana
13. Stanford 13. Illinois
14. LSU 14. Rutgers
15. Louisville
16. Miami (Fla.)

Have a question about Michigan football? Tweet us @Landof10Mich and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Michigan football mailbags here.