Jim Harbaugh chose his quarterback Monday, naming junior Shea Patterson the Michigan football team’s starting signal caller.
It was the earliest Harbaugh has announced a starter since his Stanford days — Wolverine quarterback battles have gone down to the wire the past three seasons. The timing of the decision brings credence to the praise teammates have heaped on Patterson since joining the program.
But off the Patterson hype train, Harbaugh’s announcement carries significant and practical implications for another group of Michigan players.
“I think that helps (to have a decision this early),” said sophomore receiver Tarik Black on Tuesday. “You want to get a set QB in so you build a bond with that QB and not have to work on timing with two different quarterbacks. … It’s just good to have that set quarterback so you know who’s throwing you the ball, when he’s gonna throw it, where he’s gonna throw it — things like that.”
Wolverines receivers know the challenges of working with multiple starting quarterbacks simultaneously. Last year’s trio of Wilton Speight, John O’Korn and redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters — forced into motion from a series of injuries — was largely ineffective and the team’s passing game struggled.
Hence the addition of Patterson and Monday’s news.
Part of Michigan’s passing-game struggles last year, however, were a by-product of Black’s absence from the field. Injured 11 months ago against Air Force, Black missed most of his freshman season with a broken foot.
“That was tough for me,” Black said. “I think I got off to a good start. I think we as a team got off to a good start, and I just wanted to be out there to continue to help my team win. I wasn’t able to do that so it kind of beat me up a little bit.”
Through three games last year, Black was the Wolverines’ most consistent target with 11 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. But once he went down, Michigan’s receiving unit went from unproven to barren as the season dragged on. The team’s five leading wideouts combined for just 1057 yards.
Two of those guys aren’t coming back, either: Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford both left the program this summer. But the returns of a “100-percent healthy” Black, sophomore Donavon Peoples-Jones and fifth-year senior Grant Perry have Michigan feeling comfortable with its receiving core.
“We definitely have made strides in the playbook,” Perry said. “Guys are playing more confident, playing all around the field — not just one position.”
Some of that growth stems from the addition of Jim McElwain. It’s the first time Michigan has had a full-time receivers coach under Harbaugh, and McElwain is a high-profile acquisition to break in the role, having coached Florida from 2015 to 2017.
In his first summer in Ann Arbor, he has gotten high praise from Black, who already calls McElwain one of his “all-time favorite coaches.”
“He brings a positive energy,” Black said. “He’s always teaching us the little stuff and to pay attention to the details and things like that.”
Added Perry: “This year, it’s definitely nice to have someone who’s been around and coached some really touted receivers who are in the NFL now. He definitely knows what he’s talking about, and it’s paying off for us.”
McElwain’s addition also figures to aid the development of sophomores Nico Collins and Oliver Martin. Both could see significant chunks of playing time in 2018 with the departures of Crawford and McDoom.
“It’s Nico’s second year, and I just feel like he’s bringing a lot to the table,” said junior safety Josh Metellus. “He’s a real tall guy, he uses his size and weight to be a (good) receiver.”
Adjectives about a receivers’ size or athleticism are common around Schemblecher Hall these days. And rightfully so: Michigan has talent at the position. But this is a prove-it year for the receivers — a chance to show a near-disastrous 2017 was simply a blip.
And with full rehab and another quarterback decision behind him, Black is ready to do just that.
“Man, I can’t wait,” Black said with a smile. “I really, really can’t wait.”