BY RUTH LINCOLN
Daily Sports Editor
Published April 2, 2009
While meeting with reporters for the first time since becoming the Michigan football team’s first-string quarterback, early-enrollee Tate Forcier couldn’t stop smiling.
The freshman answered each question excitedly — and he could afford to.
With quarterback Steven Threet’s transfer and redshirt junior quarterback Nick Sheridan out for three to five more weeks with a right leg fracture, Forcier is taking the majority of snaps with the first-team offense this spring.
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has stressed the quarterback competition will depend more on the fall than the spring, but after just a few weeks in Rodriguez’s system, the dual-threat quarterback has impressed many.
“He's catching on real fast,” senior running back Brandon Minor said. “The first week, you thought he was kind of slow. He wasn't running fast, but he was just trying to get used to the plays. Once he got those down, you could see his speed. And his arm, too. He's got a lot of potential.”
In high school, Forcier focused on improving his speed. This spring, his training has been focused on bulking up his 6-foot-1, 187-pound frame with Michigan strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis.
Quarterback Pat White, who played for Rodriguez at West Virginia from 2005 to 2007, was 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds in his first season with the Mountaineers.
Forcier said his biggest challenges this spring have been the speed of the college game and adjusting to taller linemen. Last summer, Forcier worked out with 6-foot quarterback Drew Brees. The three-time Pro Bowler had a few tips.
“He said, ‘You're not going to throw over guys, you're going to throw in the windows, in between guys,’ ” Forcier recalled.
Although he’s watching practice from the sidelines, Sheridan, who played in eight games last season, has taken Forcier under his wing.
“I have Nick right after every play, telling me what I need to do, what I can do to do better,” Forcier said. “Even if it's a successful play, what else I can do to make it even better than that?”
Forcier said the two quarterbacks talk frequently and hang out on the weekends. Sheridan is good friends with Forcier’s older brother, Jason, who played for Michigan in 2005 and 2006 before transferring to Stanford.
The Forcier-Sheridan competition won’t heat up until Sheridan is healthy. But Rodriguez thinks Forcier is playing better than Sheridan was at this point last spring.
“He’s got Nick and others around him knowing what to do,” Rodriguez said. “Last year, they were all new in the system, so it was a little bit tougher on the quarterbacks.
“Regardless, there's going to be so much competition at the position in the fall, it's going to be exciting to watch. But Tate is certainly making the most of his opportunity now.”
Speed demon: Early enrollee running back Vincent Smith has impressed coaches this spring with his blazing speed. At just 5-foot-6, Smith has shown he may be worthy of playing time this fall.
During the Wolverines’ ‘M’ drill at Thursday’s practice, cones were set up in a ‘V’ formation extending horizontally across the field. Three pairs lined up with an offensive lineman blocking a defensive lineman, a tight end blocking a linebacker and a wide receiver blocking a defensive end. A running back began at the sideline and tried to run through the players while staying in the cones.
Smith ran fluidly, breaking through the line pair by pair with ease.
“You never know how much a freshman can contribute early, and Vincent has a long way to go,” Rodriguez said. “But just judging on a few practices, he has the talent to help us early this year. We'll see if he can do it."
Smooth transitions: After the Wolverine defense gave up a program-record 28.9 points per game last year, new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson now has a lot on his plate. But Rodriguez says the transition seems to be going smoothly.
“Obviously, some of the terminology is going to be new,” Rodriguez said. “But because some of them haven't played a lot before, it's not as difficult as it is for someone who has been in the same system for three or four years. I'm most proud of our juniors and seniors and how quickly they've adjusted. We’ve had some mental busts and missed assignments, but not nearly as much as you would think with a new scheme.”
Coaches’ clinic: Rodriguez will host the annual coaches’ clinic this weekend. At Thursday’s practice, about 100 coaches stood along the sidelines watching and taking notes. Last year’s clinic attracted nearly 600 coaches, and more will come to Ann Arbor throughout the weekend.