Coming off perhaps the most efficient season from a Michigan quarterback in over a decade — one in which he posted 2,600 yards passing, 22 touchdowns and 8.0 yards per attempt — Shea Patterson will return for his senior season as the presumptive starter. Any development to the contrary would be downright stunning.
And yet, don’t expect any such declaration from Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh any time soon.
“Right now, Shea, Dylan (McCaffery), Joe (Milton) are all getting equal reps, and they’re all looking good,” Harbaugh said, diplomatically. “It’s a really good, talented quarterback room. Brandon Peters, Cade McNamara getting in the mix. Mike Sessa is doing a really good job.”
Still short of breaking from his core tenant of incessant competition, Harbaugh offered rare insight into the quarterback depth chart as it stands today.
“Depth chart: Shea is No. 1, Dylan’s No. 2, Joe’s No. 3,” Harbaugh said, “and there’s no possible way Shea Patterson will be able to put his feet up, in my opinion. They’ve got serious competition there with Dylan and Joe right now.”
“We’re not going to send each other Christmas cards”
Harbaugh’s media availability Monday also provided his first chance to publicly express his sentiment toward the surprising departure of defensive line coach Greg Mattison to rival Ohio State. The 69-year-old Mattison joined the staff of new Ohio State coach Ryan Day as the Buckeyes’ new defensive coordinator after spending nine seasons on staff at Michigan.
Still cordial, Harbaugh didn’t hide his personal displeasure with the move.
“I wouldn’t say shocked — I was surprised, yeah. But he wanted to be a coordinator again. They darn near doubled his salary. I’m not going to hold that against him,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not going to send each other Christmas cards, based on where he went, but that’s how I feel and understand it.”
Mattison and linebackers coach Al Washington both bolted for Columbus in early January, each leaving behind sizeable holes to fill on the defensive staff. In his time at Michigan, Mattison regularly produced high-caliber college players and NFL prospects. The list of elite players he’s developed includes five first- or second-team All-Big Ten selections along the defensive line, in Taco Charlton, Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, Chase Winovich and Chris Wormley. Shaun Nua and Anthony Campanile were hired as the defensive line and linebackers’ coaches, respectively, shortly after their departures. Washington’s departure will be felt most strongly on the recruiting trail, where Harbaugh credited him with making a serious impact in his year with the program.
Still, it’s Mattison’s move that will sting most, both for on and off-field reasons. With Mattison gone, Jay Harbaugh is now the only coach to be on staff for the entirety of Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan.
“Still a good man,” Harbaugh said. “Still a ton of respect for him. We’ll be friends again some day, when we’re both done coaching.”
New players in new spots
Among the array of changes for Michigan this spring, there will be some new faces in new places on the field.
Harbaugh ran down a list of players trying out new positions in spring camp, including players operating at multiple positions.
Freshman Ben VanSumeran will transition from fullback to running back and linebacker, perpetuating the notion that the old-school fullback position will be de-emphasized with new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis calling plays. Freshman Hassan Haskins, who operated at both running back and VIPER this past season, will focus strictly at running back.
“He already looks really good,” Harbaugh said. “He went both ways last year. Think he’s going to be really good at that position.”
Ben Mason, meanwhile, might just try out every position on the field before all is said and done. Mason, who totaled seven touchdowns last season, will play in all three phases this season — potentially at running back, linebacker, 3-technique and kick coverage, in addition to fullback.
“We want to get Ben Mason on the field as much as possible. … It’ll be a lot on his plate, we’ll see how he can handle it. I think he’s going to handle it really well,” Harbaugh said. “For Ben Mason, even last year’s offense, he would be playing probably average 20 plays per game, 25. We’d like to see Ben Mason getting 60 plays per game, 70 plays per game, a full game.”