ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Wilton Speight knows just how to balance the Michigan quarterback conversation. In one breath, the third-year sophomore will tell you how badly he wants to start for the Wolverines; however, during that same moment, he’ll also tell you how he’s honored and humbled to even be considered as a starter-worthy candidate.
In other moments, he’ll switch topics because he’d rather speak with his play as opposed to words.
Make no mistake — he wants to beat out John O’Korn and Shane Morris. That is his exact intention. He knows that his late-fourth-quarter takeover at Minnesota in 2015 placed him into what passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch has described as the “pole position.”
That spot only matters before the flags drop.
Entering camp, Speight will be just another one in the field. It’ll be his job to re-secure his position. It’s nobody else’s job but his; that’s how he learned to do it from 2015 starter Jake Rudock, whose one year in Ann Arbor set the tone for Jim Harbaugh-era quarterbacks. Rudock walked the balancing beam like a pro. Speight wants to follow.
“What I noticed all offseason was he never talked, ‘This is how hard I’m working,’ or ‘Look at me… I’m doing this or I’m doing that,'” Speight said.
Some people expect Speight to win the job. When asked what he thought, Speight cracked a smile before “PC-ing” his way through another question.
Oh, the restraint.
“I don’t let the outside noise get in my ear,” he said while standing in the Wolverines’ locker room. “I really think it’s just now, more than ever, just ignoring the noise. Just staying in my own lane and running my own race. Not worrying about what everyone thinks.
“But I’m not worried about what people are saying. I know what I’m doing, and that’s all that matters — and that’s what I saw Jake Rudock do last year, which I admire a lot and will try to apply to myself.”
At 6-foot-6 and 243 pounds, Speight has all kinds of invaluable physical traits. He sees the field well. He’s quite mobile, and not just for a large quarterback. Despite just six appearances, Speight has shown off a strong arm, too.
He can get the job done if called upon.
Experience, confidence and preparing like a starter have merged into one for Speight, who has much more overall control, both athletically and mentally, than he had at this time one year ago.
“It’s going into my third year now, and I’ve been around the block twice, so I know what to expect with this staff,” said Speight, who has career numbers of 73 passing yards, one touchdown and one pick. “This is my first time going into the season with the same staff, which you can’t really put into words what that means, in terms of how to control what’s going on and what to expect.
“I feel better than ever about, you know, everything that’s going on right now, and how I feel and how I’m about to approach this.”
The past year-and-a-half has provided a great deal of stability for Speight. Same head coach. Same offensive coordinator and passing coordinator. Instead of merely just learning the playbook, Speight has graduated to full-on retention. The next step is development and execution.
“Having to know the entire playbook — guys have to know a lot in this offense — but when you’re a quarterback, you need to know what all 11 guys are doing on the field at the same time,” he said. “Going in Year 2 of the same playbook, I didn’t have to focus this offseason as much on like, an ‘X knife’ — what does the backside have on this play? Am I going to freak out when I read that on my wristband and not remember it?’
“I do remember it.”
At the very least, Speight has had his foot in the door since late 2014, when then-coach Brady Hoke considered burning Speight’s redshirt. Then Jim Harbaugh arrived in December, at which point Speight maintained pace — despite having to contend with Rudock, an Iowa transfer.
Speight quietly slid up to No. 2, hopping Morris, and the rest took care of itself. As the backup, you always have to assume that your chance is around the corner, an approach that has worked well for Speight.
Quarterback has always been important at Michigan, but with Harbaugh, the position’s value jumps a few notches. Just because a guy played well in 2015 and spring 2016 doesn’t mean he’s the next guy. Camp decides.
Nothing but the best-qualified man, every time — that’s what Harbaugh wants.
Speight appreciates his coach’s consistency:
“He doesn’t change his approach in anything he does. If he’s making an omelette in the morning, he’s probably going to tackle that with the same amount of focus as he would talking to his team. It’s a new year, last year’s in the past and that was that team, and this is this team. I think he’s probably going to approach (the QB selection) the same way. We’re going to go in the submarine and, you know, worry about what’s going on internally and we’ll figure it out from there.”
Will Speight be the guy to build upon Rudock’s 10-3 near-masterpiece? Whoever wins the job will have to follow quite an act — not only as the quarterback, but as a catalyst for a Big Ten championship run, and maybe something more.
“I don’t think there is more pressure or anything — at least, we don’t seem like that,” Speight said, again tactfully balancing his response. “I’m sure there’s speculation that we’re supposed to win this or win that. Right now, we’re supposed to (prepare to) line up against Hawaii and do the best we can to beat them. That’s all we can do.”
Right now, all Speight can do is prepare to be the starter. He’s earned his shot, and now is his time to reap the benefits.
That said, he won’t spend too much time talking about why he should start. He’d rather demonstrate it on the field.