Michigan is about a handful of practices into preseason camp, and the quarterback competition is humming along, with Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy both improved, according to their position coach.
McNamara led Michigan to a 12-2 record last season, including a win over Ohio State and the program’s first Big Ten championship since 2004. McCarthy, a sophomore, was his backup last season and often was utilized in packages that took advantage of his mobility.
This competition was delayed when McCarthy was held out of throwing during spring practice because of an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder that required rest. McCarthy is healthy now, and McNamara has the confidence from leading the team last season.
In other words, game on.
Matt Weiss, Michigan co-offensive coordinator who coaches the quarterbacks, spoke with reporters Sunday, along with co-offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore, and said he feels good about the progress of both quarterbacks.
“J.J. definitely working his way back into it,” Weiss said. “I think we’re blessed to have two guys that would start at most places. And we have two really good quarterbacks, and the best player’s gonna play.
“Cade has improved physically, and just like any player has gotten better mentally with experience, and he’s playing at a really high level. And then J.J. has done the same thing. So we’re in a great position with both those guys.”
With McCarthy’s shoulder injury, Weiss has a new perspective on working out arms. Last spring, McCarthy worked with Tom House, the noted former Major League pitcher who has worked with MLB pitchers and NFL and college quarterbacks on mechanics and stretching exercises among other things to take stress off their arms.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh last season shared a story about a freshman trio, including McCarthy, heading out to throw and get in some more informal practice in the early morning hours after arriving home from the win at Wisconsin.
Harbaugh enthusiastically described how he saw McCarthy, running back Donovan Edwards and receiver Andrel Anthony going to the practice field for the extra work.
“That’s not something we’re doing anymore,” Weiss said, laughing.
There can be too much of a good thing, and additional throwing is no longer advised. Weiss said he has become a student of House and also has worked closely with John Beck, a former BYU and NFL quarterback who has learned from House. Beck was introduced to House by retired NFL quarterback great Drew Brees.
“They’re kind of from the same tree,” Weiss said. “Tom taught John a lot of what he knows, and I’ve tried to learn as much as I can from those guys. It’s certainly helped me be a better coach, a better resource for those guys. And I think that’s helped make them better quarterbacks.”
Weiss said they’re monitoring the number of throws quarterbacks make in practice. It isn’t about the quantity of throws, but the quality.
“We put a lot into that in terms of not only counting reps, but also making sure that everything they take out they’re putting back in with exercises,” Weiss said. “Throwing (puts) stress on the arm. It’s a weighted object, it’s an unweighted deceleration, so we do everything we can to make sure that they’re putting everything back into their arms and taking care of their bodies. And J.J. is on the exact same plan as everybody else.”
How Michigan will proceed determining the starting quarterback is unclear. Harbaugh proved last season he is more than willing to play both McNamara and McCarthy.
“The philosophy here, Sherrone would tell you the same thing, and I think Jim would say the same thing, we will win by any means necessary," Weiss said. "So the best players are gonna play, the best quarterback is gonna play. It’s true in any position. But then if there’s something that we can do, if somebody adds an element that we don’t have, we’re gonna use that person.”
The Wolverines went into last season wanting to give McCarthy, who had not thrown a pass in college, a chance to get acclimated to the college game. That’s why, Weiss said, the freshman saw playing time early in the season to avoid the shock value of potentially being on the road and having to play in a critical situation.
But they put more on McCarthy’s plate and made him more integral to the game plan.
“We used him on a lot of quarterback runs,” Weiss said. “He certainly threw the ball effectively, also. But what that did for him is it controlled the defense. If you’re running a lot of quarterback runs, you’re not going to be running four-to-the-side blitzes and showing them all different types of coverages. They’re going to make sure they haven’t been gapped out, they’re going to be more static.
“So, that made things easier for him. He didn’t have to go out on third-and-15, some crazy blitz coming. And figured out (he) was able to control when he was in the game, and what he was doing, and help him have success, so we could build on that success. So we were able to develop our backup. But then at the same time, he was able to do things athletically that helped us win games. And to his credit, he earned the opportunity to go out there and do that. And he was really effective. And he’s a really good player, and he’s gonna be really good. So, we’re excited about him in his future. And I mean, it’s hard to see him being anything but really, really good at the University of Michigan, whenever his time comes, so we’re just gonna continue to develop them. And he’ll be playing for us at some point, it’s just a question of when.”
Weiss shared his thoughts on the top traits that make a successful quarterback. Mobility and arm strength are either there, he said, or they aren’t, and it’s hard to develop either.
But there’s more that makes a top quarterback, things like accuracy and timing, and high on the list, decision-making. Those things can be developed. There also is the intangible of leadership and being a winner. Some have a knack for being a strong leader — and that’s an important piece to all of this — and strong leadership from the quarterback helps develop a team’s culture, not to mention its offensive identity.
“All the things that you that you want your quarterback to be,” Weiss said. “Really all the stuff we have with our guys. Cade, you could certainly say all those things about him. He’s a winner. He’s the type of guy that has all those intangibles. And that’s what you look for.”
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This story was originally published August 8, 2022 2:30 AM.