The Michigan football team ends each practice with what they call a “move the ball” drill. The premise is basic — it’s essentially a situational scrimmage. The offense gets the ball at a given place on the field and goes until their drive ends with either a punt, turnover, touchdown or field goal. It’s a moment where competitive juices flourish, particularly at the quarterback position.
As has become a yearly tradition, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has not named a starter, and likely won’t until the season gets closer. Cade McNamara, who started the last game of the 2020 season, entered spring ball the odds-on favorite after Joe Milton transferred. But J.J. McCarthy, a true freshman, was one of the most highly-touted recruits in the country. The Wolverines also added Alan Bowman, a transfer from Texas Tech, though he hasn’t yet arrived in Ann Arbor.
So when it’s time to do the drill, McNamara, McCarthy and Dan Villari each take one drive.
“They each take tremendous pride in it,” fifth-year senior offensive lineman Andrew Stueber said. “It could affect their mood for the rest of the day, into the off day. … They’re fighting it out in there.”
According to Stueber, McNamara is starting to step up as a leader. It’s not a guarantee he’ll start, but that’s as good a sign as any.
“Obviously last season he played a little bit, but it’s different when you think you have the starting job, now you have command of the offense, you take much more pride in it, much more intent in it,” Stueber said. “He’s been doing great so far. I love his poise in the pocket, decisions he’s making, his confidence, too, is growing, so it’s great to see.”
Added senior receiver Ronnie Bell: “Cade’s always had a little kick to him from a standpoint of command or lead, like a swagger, he’s always had like that, even when he got here as a freshman a long time ago. For me, it was never — even when he won a job or didn’t have the job before — it was never anything new to me about Cade. I know Cade, I know how he attacks every day.”
As for McCarthy, though he’s still learning the playbook, he’s already impressed with his ability to scramble and make plays on the run. Being so early in his career, Stueber said McCarthy is still learning to read defenses at the college level.
“Sometimes he’ll throw it off,” Stueber said. “Just seeing someone pick him up, carry him along and watching him learn in meetings is great to see.”
Bell, who led Michigan in receiving yards and receptions last year, said all three quarterbacks have his confidence.
“I feel like if I’m in the game, if it’s Dan, if I’m in the game and it’s J.J., if I’m in the game and it’s Cade, there’s never any type of hesitation as a receiver when you know that you got a quarterback with that amount of skill next to you,” Bell said. “So I always feel lucky.”