CHICAGO — The day he transferred to Michigan, many assumed that Shea Patterson would win the starting quarterback spot. And he did, starting every game in his first season for the Wolverines.
Now, with a full season under his belt in addition to another offseason to understand the offense and develop chemistry with the receiving corps, Patterson seems primed to evolve into the quarterback pundits expected him to be when he came out of high school as a five-star recruit.
But Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh threw a curveball at the Big Ten Media Day on Friday.
“Yes, I do (see Dylan McCaffrey playing in addition to Patterson) where it stands right now,” Harbaugh said. “That could change later or not, as I seem them both playing possibly. Where it stands right now, I see it as maybe redefining what a starter is.
“I’m really not talking about playing them both at the same time when I say that I’m going to play them both in games. It’s really going to be they’re both playing quarterback during the same game, and where it stands now, in every game.”
This is drastically different from what Harbaugh has done in the past, though, especially in his initial years as head coach when the quarterback situation was more in flux. But with perhaps his most talented quarterback during his tenure as head coach in Ann Arbor, why would Harbaugh introduce another man into a position race that seemed set?
The answer lies in the offensive scheme the Wolverines are progressively growing towards — the spread offense.
With new coordinator Josh Gattis at the helm of an offense that returns nine of its 11 starters and a spread philosophy based on his “speed in space” motto, Michigan has not one but two quarterbacks it feels confident playing at anchor of the offense.
“As I said, not only Shea and Dylan are really good and suited for (the spread offense),” Harbaugh said, “but I’d say Joe Milton as well and Cade McNamara. And most quarterbacks are coming out of that type of system.”
Running multiple quarterbacks in a game isn’t necessarily new to the college game — some of the decade’s most successful teams have put multiple guys under center in each game and found success. And with McCaffrey’s mobility as well as Patterson’s experience running run-pass options — a staple of the spread offense — the Wolverines’ feel comfortable approaching the season with this strategy.
“I trust both of them with the ball,” said senior guard Ben Bredeson. “They’re both extraordinary athletes, both of them can run the offense, both of them take care of the football really well. So I would have no problem with those guys, either both being back there, one or the other being back there, I trust them both.
“ I’m sure whatever situation they’re presented, they’re going to do well. They’re going to thrive.”