CHICAGO — Wilton Speight began and ended last season as the starting quarterback of the Michigan football team. And, objectively speaking, it was a pretty damn good debut.
Speight, now a redshirt junior, threw for 2,538 yards and completed 62 percent of his passes, with 18 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Jim Harbaugh said at Big Ten Media Days that he wants a quarterback who can move the ball down the field, score touchdowns and avoid turnovers — which Speight was able to do much of the time he was on the field.
None of that, however, guarantees that Speight will be this year’s starting quarterback, especially with a coach who constantly preaches the virtue of meritocracy.
“Yes, so Wilton's in a good spot,” Harbaugh said Tuesday. “He comes in really tied for first with John O'Korn and Brandon Peters, legitimately, through competition, throughout all the spring, went through 15 practices and was in a dead heat. But the good news is they all did some things that really — Brandon really shot up. John O'Korn really played consistently good. And Wilton really had some impressive moments as well.
“We'll go through training camp starting on Monday, just throw the balls out there and let the fellows compete. There's a lot a quarterback can do over the summer to get better at playing quarterback. It's one of those positions, like a kicker. A quarterback can just go out there and throw balls on the net, can work on their drops. There's a lot of ways that they don't even need other players to be out there to improve some part of their skill game.”
While Speight is the incumbent and has an entire season as the starter to work off of, both Peters and O’Korn have flashed their potential plenty of times. O’Korn is more experienced, having served as the starting quarterback for a high-powered Houston offense before transferring to Michigan in 2015. With an injured Speight on the sidelines, O’Korn started against Indiana, competing 7-of-16 passes for 59 yards and adding a crucial 30-yard run that helped the Wolverines pull away.
Peters, meanwhile, redshirted his freshman season before emerging in the competition in spring. He had the best performance among all quarterbacks in Michigan’s spring game, completing 9-of-17 passes for 160 yards with one touchdown and interception each. He displayed his mobility, as well, as he got out of the pocket at times and added a 12-yard rushing touchdown.
The biggest area for Peters to improve? His vocality, according to Harbaugh.
“He’s got a personality that’s very quiet. … He’s kind of real quiet,” Harbaugh said. “There’s one thing that’s easy to do as a quarterback, just take charge. Be loud, and that doesn’t come natural to him. Just take charge, you know? Be loud. It’s really easy. Huhhhhhhhh! Be loud. Blue 80! Blue 80! That’s the easiest thing about being a quarterback to me. Just be louder, Brandon. Please.
“But he’s coming out of it. Those stadiums are very loud, and there’s a lot of people in them. But he elevated his game over the spring.”
Fall camp begins next Monday, and Harbaugh anticipates it’ll take one to two weeks to resolve the competition between Speight, Peters and O’Korn.
“(It’ll) probably take about anywhere from eight to 15 practices to figure that out,” Harbaugh said. “Historically that's what it usually takes. But we're looking forward to it. Mostly in a good spot.”