ANN ARBOR, Mich. — There is no “other” version of Michigan’s passing offense.
What you saw in 2015 will be what you see this fall from the Wolverines’ quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends.
Passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch didn’t keep things simple one year ago; he showed his hand. Conversely, he’s not going to throw in all kinds of complex wrinkles this time around just for the sake of doing so. He likes what he has and how it operates.
“I think that can be almost like a cardinal sin when you do that, when you start saying ‘Well, we’ve had a year — now let’s get complicated!’ Or ‘Now let’s get crazy!'”, Fisch said during Michigan’s annual media day at the Junge Center. “All of the sudden, when you start doing that, and now you’re not as good — right? We want to get better than we were last year.
“So we want to take from what we did last year, see what we did well, and do more of that. Do less of the extraneous stuff, and actually go the other direction with it.”
Again, 2015 wasn’t a test run, but that doesn’t mean 2016 will be a carbon copy. Players have progressed, increasing their ability to do more, and the Wolverines will have a new starting quarterback.
Other than figuring out a few personnel details, Fisch appears to have a relatively smooth road leading into fall practices.
“It’s a huge difference than going into having this conversation last year. We had — what? — one spring of information, and we didn’t even have Jake that spring,” Fisch said. “So really, the first practice we were going to have with Jake was going to be tomorrow (Aug. 8, the start of camp) last year, right? So we were having a lot of these discussions (among team) and really, a lot of if was just guessing…”
No more guesswork, though. At this point, Fisch knows his players’ strengths and weaknesses. He has gathered plenty more intelligence since arriving in January of 2015. He has three candidates for the top job: John O’Korn, Wilton Speight and Shane Morris.
“Now we’ve got film on Wilton, in the games he played for us last year. We had meetings with those guys (quarterbacks) all last year, all last spring,” Fisch said of his quarterbacks. “Their preparation has been excellent leading into it.
“Now it’s really exciting because you can build off of last year without taking on this whole approach of ‘too much newness.’ It really can be, ‘How much better can we get?’… now that you can show them film of Michigan people doing it, rather than other people doing it.”
Whoever demonstrates the best ability to move the ball — “not just flashes but consistent good days,” per Fisch — will win the job. It’s an opportunity for the taking.
“I think we have two guys who are doing really well, and another two guys who are, you know, three guys, who are right there — they’re just continuing to compete for it… I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that it’s in between two guys.”
Morris is very much an option, Fisch said.
One year ago, Michigan knew that Rudock would be the starter during the early stages of camp. By the sound of it, Michigan will know about this year’s No. 1 around the same time.
The situation does prompt an interesting question: If three guys are essentially equal, could the competition spill over into the first few games of the fall?
“You know… I guess… there’s always a chance. I don’t know that; I don’t know what it’s going to look like. I would be surprised if it looked like that — that it would go into the season. You’d like to have a starting quarterback before then, but again, we don’t know. It’s going to be… we’ll talk about, and as we talk about it, we’ll figure out what’s the best way to name a starting quarterback; when’s the best time to name a starting quarterback; and what are we going to with that?”
As a freshman at Houston in 2013, O’Korn threw for 3,117 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Upon his arrival in Ann Arbor, the 6-foot-4, 209-pounder added another dynamic of competitiveness to the race for quarterback.
“He does everything right off the field,” Fisch said of the third-year sophomore. “He’s somebody who wants to lead; he wants to be the guy; he wants to find a way to, you know, really take this team and run with it. I think that you can see that every day that you’re around him.”
Everyone remembers Speight’s heroics versus Minnesota. The late touchdown pass during the Wolverines’ 29-26 late-night road win certainly put him in position to succeed Rudock. At 6-foot-6 and 243 pounds, Speight’s carrying roughly 10 additional pounds and a noticeable edge.
“I think that going into last year’s camp, he’s a much different person going into this year’s camp,” Fisch said. “He’s taken on, he’s matured, he’s taken on a lot of responsibility. The obvious game, against Minnesota, gave him a ton of confidence. You know, he’s just excited about it.
“He’s excited about the fact that’s not going to be the only touchdown he ever throws for Michigan. I think that’s his mindset — that’s not going to be my last touchdown.”
It shouldn’t be, either.
“You have to remind these guys about that, one of many,” Fisch said.
Long story short: Fisch has qualified and experienced quarterbacks, plus a clearly defined top-three group of receivers: seniors Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, along with sophomore Grant Perry, who dramatically improved his value over the course of the 2015 season.
Jake Butt and Ian Bunting are primed for productive years on the end as blockers and yardage gainers, as in 2015.
The Wolverines have their three top wideouts, but the next-generation guys earned high praise from teammates during media day. Eventually, the vets will carry the load and a youngster will emerge — as in 2015.
Who knows? Maybe Jourdan Lewis, a defensive back, will join the show and catch a few passes
That part’s new.
Are these slight differences for the No. 4-ranked passing offense in the Big Ten? Sure, but nothing drastic. Michigan got it right the first time.