Monday, August 18, 2008

Michigan Preview 2008: Part 1-QBs

With only 12 days until kickoff we are kicking off our 10-part preview of Michigan (Unit by Unit). However, this year there are more question marks, with only 12 days left before kickoff, than ever before. I'll start off with probably the biggest question mark on the team, the quarterback spot. I'm sure we will learn more about the QB in the next couple weeks and we will update you when news comes. But as of right now, here's the ugly QB preview.


The decision by Ryan Mallett to commit to Michigan two years ago really hurts them, not because he left, but because he forced Jason Forcier to transfer. Had Forcier stayed, he would almost undoubtedly be the starter for next season. Instead, he is competing for the starting job at Stanford. The one event that saved Michigan was Georgia Tech letting all their coaches go two seasons ago making Steven Threet transfer to Michigan immediately after enrolling early at Tech. If that event did not happen, Michigan would be with only 6’0” walk-on Nick Sheridan and 6’0” true freshman Justin Feagin at the quarterback spot. That’s right David Cone does not even count anymore. Imagine the only two quarterbacks being walk-on Nick Sheridan and freshman Justin Feagin, who hasn’t been able to understand the complicated offense much at all (Nightmare). So while the quarterback situation is still downright frightening, it could be a lot worse without Threet here.

Rodriguez said he would start out camp with a three person race for the starting job (Threet, Feagin, and Sheridan), and then whittle it down to two a couple weeks into camp. It is now whittled down to Threet and Sheridan, while Feagin is coming along at a snail’s pace and really struggling. I originally wrote the QB section before camp started and said the starter would undoubtedly be Threet, followed by Feagin because he could run, and then Sheridan the six foot nothing, former coach’s son, walk-on. Turns out I’m glad I did not start posting the preview so early as it looks more and more like Sheridan is actually the FAVORITE right now. Yeah…but still I think the coaches want Threet to start (because of his size) and are just hoping he shows some signs of understanding the offense as much as Sheridan does. But right now they are equal at 1a and 1b. Equal means “a” is no better than “b.”

1a. #10 Steven Threet 6’6” 230 RSFr Adrian, MI (Adrian HS)
Threet should have been the favorite for the starting job at quarterback. While Rodriguez said there was a “real” competition between Sheridan and Threet, Threet got all the snaps with 1s in the spring scrimmage while Sheridan was relegated to take snaps with the twos. Also, Sheridan was only on the roster to begin with because his dad, Bill Sheridan, was a coach under Carr and therefore Sheridan was given a walk-on spot. Threet, however, was a top 10 quarterback, four-star recruit out of high school two years ago. He is extremely smart (Valedictorian of his class) and if that parlays onto on-field smarts and good preparation, we may have actually found a legitimate starter.
However, it seems that the older Sheridan has been progressing deeper into the offense than Threet. Still, Threet does have some tools that could make him a solid quarterback in the system this year.
He ran an offense very similar to Rodriguez’s in high school with a zone-read spread. I watched some film of him from high school and he did actually have some plays designed for him to run out of the shotgun where he would pick up 7-10 yard gains. He’s not going to sprint past guys, but he’s slightly faster than any quarterback Michigan has had in the last 10 years (except Henson and maybe Forcier). In the spring he had trouble throwing the ball down the field, but the offense seems to be leaning to more quick short passes into the hands of our quick speedy guys like Toney Clemons and the incoming freshman like Sam McGuffie, Michael Shaw, Martavious Odoms, and Terrence Robinson.
Rodriguez said at Big Ten media day that they will practice the same plays they have always practiced for his offense. From Shaun King to Pat White they have always practiced the same plays, but, they will be practicing the “Shaun King” plays more with Threet. Rodriguez is smart enough to win with a drop back guy like Threet. That’s all he has right now, so he knows he has to be able to win with him. He has done it before and he can do it again this year.
All-in-all, Threet has all the tools to start the season as the starter with this roster. However, it seems that he will be splitting time with Sheridan. Threet would be the third Michigan quarterback in a row to start as a freshman (Navarre and Henne). I believe that he could also turn into a pretty good quarterback as the year goes on. But that six foot nothing walk-on seems to have a better understanding of the offense right now…

1b. #8 Nick Sheridan 6’1” 212 RSSo. Saline, MI (Saline HS)
Sheridan, a walk-on who got his chance to try out since his dad, Bill, was coaching on Carr’s staff, had done enough to surpass David Cone as Threet’s top competitor in the spring and seemingly last season as well. That in and of itself is quite an accomplishment for a guy who once told a friend of mine that the only time he might ever see game action is in a 40-point blowout his senior year. But to Sheridan’s credit, he must have been working hard as he got in for some snaps last year and to be mentioned as a possible starter now. It is hard to guage what skills Sheridan brings to the table since we have not really gotten to see him run with the first-team offense. Sheridan took all of his snaps with the second team in the spring game. Sheridan did not look bad, and does have a little, barely a little, more speed than Threet. It seems that maybe Sheridan plays with a sense of calmness and collectedness that might be giving him an edge right now. Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said that Sheridan’s now “getting comfortable with himself” and “his reads are getting better” as he gets more comfortable. Judging by Smith and Rodriguez’s comments, it does appear that Sheridan has been performing better than Threet throughout fall camp. Who knows, maybe this could turn into a great story like the last walk-on starter at Michigan, Brian Griese. No nat’l title this year, but it would be great if Sheridan is way better than we think.
Unless Threet really makes a push in these next few weeks, your starting quarterback for the Utah game is…I can’t believe I’m saying this…Nick Sheridan. Threet will still play significant minutes, but Sheridan might be “the man.”

3. #3 Justin Feagin 6’0” 190 Fr. Deerfield, FL (American Heritage)
Last year, as a senior in high school, enroute to finishing in the top 3 in voting for Mr. Florida in football, Feagin rushed for 1,313 yards (8.2 YPC) and 25 TD’s in addition to completing 60% of his passes for 1,420 yards and 19 TD’s to 3 INT’s. His size, or lack thereof, is what made many schools shy away from recruiting the 3-star to the quarterback spot. Some speculate that after this year Feagin might be moved to the slot position, but this year he will definitely have a chance to state his case to stay at QB. He has not been able to learn enough about the system to compete for the starting job. His size won’t help him either. Rodriguez has already said a lot of guys should get reps at QB this year joking that the “over-under is at 20.” Feagin will get in as the season progresses, but Threet and Sheridan should be the starters and play most of the games, at least for the first half of the season. But if Feagin starts to grasp the offense a little better, he could really be used as a secret weapon in certain situations down the road (dare I say O-state?).

4. Wild Card: #23 RB Carlos Brown 6’0” 213 Jr. Franklin, GA
Brown will probably see some reps at quarterback among others. He played QB in high school and everyone seems to want him to be the quarterback. He’s got the speed and I don’t think there is any doubt Rich Rod will give him some snaps at the spot. While Brown should be the main non-quarterback getting snaps, I expect to see a lot of the backs and slot-guys taking some shotgun snaps. Freshman Terrence Robinson played quarterback in high school and don’t be surprised to see others, who never have played quarterback, get some direct snaps throughout the year.

5. #12 David Cone 6’7” 214 RSSo. Statesboro, GA
Waste of size. Waste of supposed talent. To think I actually thought he might compete. If he sees significant time, something has gone terribly wrong. If that happens somebody please shoot me.

No matter who is playing QB this year, it’s going to be a first year starter. That means that no matter how well the coaching staff plays to the guy’s strengths, there are still going to be mistakes, probably a lot of them, especially with an inexperienced offensive line that now is battling some injuries. As Rodriguez has continually said, during this year, the toughest thing with the young guys is teaching them the fundamentals and the new system. Threet has a year of practice at Michigan, but that was in a completely different system, and Sheridan had two years in that completely different system. There are going to be some growing pains, some major growing pains. But, as the season continues on the situation at QB will get better. Before then, the defense, running game, and special teams will really need to carry the team.

Current Grade: D/D+ until proven otherwise. Bottom line, Michigan cannot afford to fall behind too far in games. We do not have a quarterback with any experience to rely on to bring us back from a sizable deficit. Maybe we will by the end of the year, but certainly not for the first half of the year. A grand total of 1 pass attempt of experience for the group, which came from the guy who hopefully won’t see the field (Cone) equals Y-I-K-E-S. The only reason this isn’t a D- or F is because Threet is not some scummy QB who came out of nowhere like many have made him out to be, Sheridan has to have done something we haven’t seen for him to warrant snaps last year and be in the mix now, and Feagin and Brown bring speed to the table to mix things up. Still, until further notice YIKES.

We will have the running backs preview tomorrow.

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