ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was surprisingly direct during his first formal press conference of the 2016 season.
Well, most of the time — just as long as it had nothing to do with the starting left tackle or quarterback.
His first order of business during his week of preparation for Hawaii? Announcing captains Jake Butt and Chris Wormley, a pair of seniors who embody the Wolverines program in his eyes.
“I’m thrilled with the leadership on our team right now,” Harbaugh continued. “From our senior class and our younger classes. I think (there were) a lot of deserving candidates, but what a great honor for Jake Butt and Chris Wormley. I think they will represent our team very well.”
A pair of shoo-in All-Somethings for 2016, Butt and Wormely are considered to be stars at their respective positions.
Butt has been widely recognized as one of the best tight ends in the nation — if not the best. He’s 6-foot-6 and roughly 250 pounds. He’s acrobatic and strong with great hands — the total package at the position.
Combining athletic skill with demeanor, Butt comes across as an obvious pick. The potential All-American and should-be NFL first-rounder certainly deserves the attention. No trouble. No reported issues. Clean kid.
The same goes for Wormley, a fifth-year senior who has carried himself like a captain for the past two years. Already considered one of the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten, Wormley appears to be on pace to hop up to the national level this year.
“They’re two of the hardest-working guys, two of the best players on the team, and they both have a real great way of being good teammates,” Harbaugh said, explaining why Butt and Wormley deserved the individual accolades. “They don’t build themselves up and put others down, around them — they both have that quality of building up other guys around them and making themselves smaller.”
Harbaugh then elaborated by saying: “When you do that, you make yourself very big, indeed, in the eyes of everybody… in front of the eyes of the whole world… and in they eyes of the people that are on your team.”
Peppers on Offense?
Since 2015, the thought of Jabrill Peppers on offense has loudly echoed at Michigan. However, throughout that time, the Wolverines haven’t given a definite “yes” regarding Peppers’ status for offense in 2016. At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, the defensive back/linebacker/return man possesses the ability to impact every facet of the team.
During camp, Peppers said he wasn’t sure if he would play on offense.
On Monday, Harbaugh confirmed that Peppers has practiced with the offense — but he wouldn’t detail the frequency of the redshirt sophomore’s participation.
Here’s the quick exchange:
“Mmmhmmm, mmmhmm,” Harbaugh replied when it was assumed that Peppers certainly must have practiced with the offense during camp.
That’s a “yes”?
“Yeah,” Harbaugh said.
For how long?
“That’s something that we don’t go into, as you might understand why — we don’t really tell people what somebody’s doing or what part of the scheme that they’re in,” Harbaugh said. “Just understand that everything is available. Use your imagination. We’d like our opponent to do the same thing. There’s options… they’re on the table.”
When pressed about Jourdan Lewis’ status, Harbaugh paused until it was time for another writer to ask a question. Lewis, a sure first-round NFL pick, has established a reputation as one of the best corners in the land, but he wants to play offense.
No answers on that front… for now.
Speight or O’Korn?
The lack of a depth chart in the game packet was enough for reporters to start with a QB-related question.
Any news on the starter? What about the competition?
“It’s been very good. Really, from day one, the competition at the quarterback position and the play of the quarterback position has been really good — I feel like it’s been improving as well,” Harbaugh said. “Daily, weekly. All the quarterbacks are playing at a very high level.”
Stock. Stock. Stock.
OK, but that doesn’t answer the question: Will it be redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight or redshirt junior John O’Korn? The Wolverines know who’ll start versus Hawaii. Harbaugh knows. The quarterbacks know. Butt says he doesn’t know — but he was obviously protecting the secret.
“Yeah, we know who are starting quarterback is — yes,” Harbaugh said. “And, yeah, I’ll say who our starting quarterback is… before Saturday,” following with a joke about not telling the media before Saturday.
The Kap Thing
Would it be mentioned? That was a question heading into Monday — and Larry Lage of the Associated Press seized the opportunity to gauge Harbaugh’s thoughts on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has caused a commotion following his choice to sit during the national anthem prior to a preseason game.
“I acknowledge his right to do that (sit in protest),” Harbaugh said of his former player. “But I don’t respect the motivation or the action.”
Of course, Twitter lit up with all kinds of “he’s a racist” comments. That said, listen to the tone of the reply and context of the question — Harbaugh’s comments weren’t racist. At worst, he was unclear, but he later clarified.
I apologize for misspeaking my true sentiments. To clarify, I support Colin's motivation. It's his method of action that I take exception to
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) August 29, 2016