At Big Ten Media Days last month, Maryland coach Mike Locksley made headlines in characterizing the workload distribution between himself and Josh Gattis.
The two were co-offensive coordinators at Alabama last year, though Gattis’ responsibilities also included the receivers. When Locksley got the Maryland job, he originally intended to bring Gattis with him, per reports at the time, but then Jim Harbaugh got involved. Gattis instead went to Michigan, taking sole responsibility of the Wolverines’ offense.
“(Gattis) was very helpful as an assistant in our program,” Locksley said last month. “He had an opportunity to see me call every play and put together game plans.”
On Wednesday, speaking to media for the first time since Michigan opened fall camp last week, Gattis confirmed that he wasn’t calling plays for the Crimson Tide, as he will for the Wolverines. However, he took some exception to the latter part of Locksley’s comments.
“Mike Locksley can say I watched him call every play, but ask him where the game plans usually come from,” Gattis said. “So I’m fine with that. He did call every play, and I’ve got a notebook upstairs with all the game plans written down in them. But I’ve got tremendous respect for him, obviously.”
Sniping aside, Gattis faces the mammoth task of satiating expectation that has only grown since the spring. Michigan’s offense returns most of its starters, including senior quarterback Shea Patterson, and with Gattis running the show and implementing a spread, it’s expected to buoy the Wolverines.
It’s the first time during the Jim Harbaugh era that the comfort of the fan base rests on the offense. Gattis — as well as the experience that comes back — is the reason why.
“Shea is playing the lights out right now,” Gattis said. “I was a little bit worried about him because he spent so much time on the golf course this summer. But his playmaking, his ball placement, his footwork in the pocket, I’ve been really pleased. He’s playing at a really big-time level, so he sets the standard. The other players around him can really see it.”
That’s the kind of thing you expect to hear about a senior quarterback in fall camp — all positive. Given that Patterson is coming off the best season a Michigan quarterback has had this side of Denard Robinson, and is now playing in an offense tailored to his skill-set, there’s no reason to doubt Gattis.
At running back, the biggest question mark going into the year for the Wolverines’ offense, Gattis said Michigan likes all five of their options: Tru Wilson, Christian Turner, Zach Charbonnet, Hassan Haskins and Ben VanSumeran. Realistically, the battle for the starting job is between the first three, with Charbonnet, the freshman, being perhaps the most intriguing option.
“Zach’s maturity stood out right away to us, as did the way he is always in the weight room and the coach’s offices,” Gattis said. “He missed all of spring ball but still hasn’t made any mistakes in fall camp.”
Gattis highlighted Mike Sainristil’s production at wide receiver, little surprise after the freshman earned rave reviews throughout spring ball. He also made sure to mention Cornelius Johnson in the same breath. Johnson, a freshman from Connecticut, has the kind of physicality to compete in the Big Ten already. However, it would be a surprise to see him earn real playing time given Michigan’s depth at receiver.
Unsurprisingly, Gattis didn’t name a starter at right tackle, only praising both Jalen Mayfield and Andrew Stueber. Given the precedent set by Harbaugh, Michigan shouldn’t be expected to give away who the starter is before the Aug. 31 opener against Middle Tennessee State.
Donovan Peoples-Jones has been practicing through a groin injury, though Gattis didn’t say whether the receiver was at 100 percent. In the spring, Harbaugh said the injury could go into the season, so take this as a positive development.
“He’s been making plays and has done a really good job kind of taking it over and learning the details and techniquest that we learn at that position and applying them this camp,” Gattis said. “He missed all of that this spring, but he’s done a nice job catching up.”
As for the defense, coordinator Don Brown said that junior cornerback Ambry Thomas hasn’t returned to practice, nor did he specify a timeline. The nature of Thomas’ injury is unclear.
Brown also said that senior defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour is practicing, though still working his way through a torn plantar fascia suffered last season in a win over Maryland. Luiji Vilain, who missed two full seasons with knee ailments, is practicing as well.