Monday marks the first day of the Michigan football team’s training camp, which means the chase to become the starting quarterback for the Sept. 3 season opener against Hawaii begins.
The open spot left by Jake Rudock is being fought for primarily between redshirt junior John O’Korn, redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight and redshirt junior Shane Morris — all of whom have shown glimpses of being able to take on the responsibility.
According to Michigan passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch, he hasn’t spoken with Harbaugh or offensive coordinator Tim Drevno on how many repetitions each passer will get during camp, but figured it’d be “very fair, very early.”
Fisch mentioned that there are two top contenders for the position, and another three who are still continuing to compete for it, but added that it’s not a slam dunk for between either of the first two options. Anybody could earn it at this point.
“There’s an opportunity to go out there and take this job. It’s not being given to anyone,” Fisch said. “They’ve had from (the Spring Game) till (camp) on their own — with the strength coaches, but on their own — to figure out a way to go become the starting quarterback of Michigan.”
The two players to which Fisch was referring are O’Korn and Speight, with Morris still slightly behind.
O’Korn has the experience necessary to take on the starting role, with Fisch stating that the Houston transfer knows what he’s doing and is the guy that wants to lead. With this month’s training camp being a “cage match” of sorts between the quarterback competition, as O’Korn called it, his experience at Houston will certainly give him an edge.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” O’Korn said. “Just not having to run out there and look at the crowd or worry about what a defense is doing. I’ve pretty much seen every defense I’m gonna face in my time at Houston on field in a game situation.”
Speight is also vying for the spot, after having a successful season in which he threw the game-winning touchdown against Minnesota on Oct. 31. Fisch said that performance, in addition to added maturity, has given Speight the confidence needed to take on a larger responsibility at quarterback.
“He’s excited about the fact that that’s not gonna be the only touchdown that he ever throws for Michigan,” Fisch said.
Though it appears O’Korn and Speight are the front-runners for starting quarterback, Morris isn’t far behind — he leads the pack among redshirt freshman Alex Malzone and freshman Brandon Peters.
Though Morris lost the job to Rudock last season, he had appeared in 10 games in his first two seasons and doubled as a wide receiver during this year’s Spring Game. But according to Drevno, it doesn’t necessarily mean Morris will move to wide receiver.
“The number one thing is can you lead the team to score,” Fisch said. “Can you lead the team in practice, can you move the football, can you not just have flashes but can you have consistent good days — one after another after another?
“ … The guy that does the most of that will really give us a great chance.”
THREE-WAY PLAYERS: Jim Harbaugh hasn’t been afraid to move his players across both sides of the ball to find the right positional fit. But with Jabrill Peppers, Michigan has a player who can be effectively used in all three phases of the game.
The redshirt sophomore linebacker spent most of his time on defense last season, but also returned kicks and punts before carving out a role later in the season as a change-of-pace player on offense, often taking the ball on jet sweeps or serving as a decoy.
“I’ve been (playing both ways) since Pop Warner,” Peppers said. “I don’t know why people make a big deal out of that. I’m just playing football. I guess it’s because it’s at this level, but it’s not as hard as you guys make it seem to be — I just get my plays in and try to execute.”
The plan this year for Peppers remains the same, but according to Harbaugh, there’s a chance senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis will join Peppers as a three-way player — albeit with a limit of around 95 to 100 total plays per game for each player.
Lewis, like Peppers, spent most of his time as on defense but also returned several kicks.
“We always feel like (it’s) very common to be two-way player,” Harbaugh said Sunday at media day. “Normally, that’s offense and special teams as the two ways, or a defensive player and also special teams. Jabrill, and also the other candidates — Jourdan Lewis would be another — that could be three-way players (on) offense, defense and special teams.”
Added redshirt junior quarterback John O’Korn: “(Lewis) and Jabrill are both once-in-a-decade players, and we just happen to have two of them on our team. They’re guys that can do things I’ve never seen before. They’re both kind of different in their strengths, but both freak athletes. That’s the word I would use to describe them — freaks. Obviously they work very hard, but that’s God-given talent with those two.”
BACK UP TO SPEED: Michigan’s main offseason injury concern was the partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in wide receiver Jehu Chesson’s knee. But at media day Sunday, Chesson confirmed that he’ll be on the field for the start of training camp Monday.
After a seven-month recovery, Chesson said he feels 100 percent healthy and as good as he did before the injury — most significantly as fast as he did. The fifth-year senior caught 50 passes for 764 yards and nine touchdowns last season, emerging as the team’s best receiver down the stretch.
He then didn’t play in any of spring camp, instead undergoing a long rehab process to get back to where he was. During one open practice at Ford Field in Detroit, Chesson and injured teammate Shelton Johnson took turns sitting on the turf and pulling a 60-yard rope, little by little, toward them from the other end of the field.
“It was tough, but just like anybody, I’m no exception to the rule,” Chesson said. “Anybody who gets hurt, it’s going to be tough. Anybody who loves football, it’s going to be hard to watch their teammates go out there and you can’t really compete on the field with them.”
Chesson doesn’t feel that the challenge of starting fall camp is greater because he missed spring practice. Either way, he’ll match up with one of the country’s best defenses on the practice field starting Monday.
“I know my mentality is that I’m going to enjoy every moment of it,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy competing with my buddies. At the end of the day, we’re on the same team, and we’re trying to get each other better so we can go out and beat other people.”