ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Harbaugh made what is likely his lone preseason camp media appearance Friday night. He wore his usual dark blue Michigan pullover and khakis. But instead of a Block M baseball cap, he should have worn a train conductor’s hat.
Michigan is two weeks into its preseason practices, and Harbaugh was asked Friday if he had reached the eight-to-15 practice benchmark for when football coaches typically begin to make personnel decisions.
Harbaugh referenced that threshold last month during Big Ten media days in Chicago. While he has no plans to divulge any roster moves, the next few days will bring some movement in preparation for the season, which begins Sept. 2 against Florida in Arlington, Texas.
“Guys are getting on the train and getting in playing positions,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a big weekend for it. We’re going to start making those two-deep rosters soon.
“The train has left the station, and it’s picking up steam.”
While much of Michigan’s preseason camps are cloaked in mystery, save for what Michigan has posted on its social media accounts and what has been screened on the Big Ten Network (which visited Michigan on Friday), Michigan’s coaches are making a few lists.
They’re checking them more than twice.
Soon, they’ll have to make a few decisions.
Harbaugh addressed the most pressing question first, the one that will linger through the course of the preseason: Has anybody stepped up at quarterback?
“John [O’Korn] and Wilton [Speight] have really stepped up,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve created a little bit of separation. They’re battling now. It’s one [quarterback practicing] with the 1s, and the next day the other is with the 1s, and [the other] with the 2s. But we’re keeping a very close eye on it.
“It’s progressing well.”
Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno gave a similar spiel on the overwhelming storyline to the Big Ten Network.
“I see two guys who are really competing at a high level and really taking command,” Drevno said. “If somebody doesn’t know something, getting the formation right when they break, remind them, they remind them what the snap count is. Competing and making throws, making plays.
“It’s a competitive nature but they’re good friends. In the room, when you’re coaching them and talking through things, you can see how important it is to them that they want to lead this team.”
Wilton Speight and John O'Korn are battling.
— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) August 12, 2017
Brandon Peters isn’t quite the forgotten man, but from what Harbaugh said, “it’s a process for him. … Not to say anything is set in stone right now, but I think [O’Korn and Speight] have really created a little bit of separation.”
When discussing how Michigan’s camp is progressing, one would think Michigan’s coaching staff has a lot of decisions to make, given the number of people Harbaugh named.
At one point, it felt as if he was giving out participation awards.
Running backs Chris Evans, Karan Higdon, Ty Isaac and Kareem Walker.
Specialists Will Hart, Brad Robbins, Camaron Cheeseman, Quinn Nordin, Kyle Seychel and Ryan Tice.
Tight ends Ty Wheatley, Sean McKeon, Zach Gentry and Ian Bunting.
(You may need a roster to figure out who a few of those are. Michigan still hasn’t posted this year’s version.)
Harbaugh may have named more than 20 players Friday night, but Michigan will begin working in specifics.
Harbaugh thrives in the structure of football, and he will go from simply conducting the train to operating the locomotive and throwing switches.
And the train station Harbaugh referenced? That will be a little further away, in the rear-view mirror.