I’m not the kind of guy who boos
(usually, I seethe quietly or whine to friends). But if I were,
over my first three years here in Ann Arbor, the vast majority of
my heckling would have been directed towards John Navarre.

Sharad Mattu

From the first game in the 2001 season until Michigan beat Ohio
State last year (I have to give him some credit), I never stopped
complaining. I used pretty much every criticism you could possibly
have for a quarterback other than “he’s got a strong
arm.”

He’s slow. He’s inaccurate. He locks into receivers.
For a 6-foot-6 guy, way too many passes get deflected.

And, of course, he can’t win close games. Last year, a
housemate and I argued for hours over who was a better quarterback
— Navarre or Ohio State’s Craig Krenzel. Let’s
just say I used the term “clutchness” a lot.

And I wasn’t alone. Navarre took so much heat the last
three years, he apparently had to change his cell phone number more
than once and couldn’t check his e-mail.

Just a week ago, backup quarterback Spencer Brinton recalled
what Navarre went through and shook his head in disgust.

“I didn’t really know what it was like for
quarterbacks when I came here,” he said. “If I had
known, I probably wouldn’t have come.”

He quickly said he was joking, but it was easy to see it was at
least a half-truth.

Yet, through it all, Navarre steadily improved. It also
didn’t hurt that he never really had to look over his
shoulder (though I’m probably one of many to wonder what
would have happened if Jermaine Gonzales had been able to lead the
Wolverines back at home against Ohio State in 2001).

And somehow, Navarre now holds just about every Michigan passing
record.

My mind turned to Navarre after last Saturday’s game
against San Diego State when I saw Michigan’s latest
quarterback, Chad Henne, outside the Big House signing autograph
after autograph.

When I see Henne right now, I see a quarterback who has all the
tools. Someday soon, I think he’ll be a quarterback that fans
in Michigan Stadium can trust when Michigan has the ball and is
down late in the game.

But right now, Henne looks a lot like Navarre. Henne’s
getting sacked, making the occasional wild throw and forgetting
that most plays have more than one receiver.

But I learned from the Navarre years. This time around,
I’m keeping my mouth shut. I’m pretty much expecting a
shaky, up-and-down passing offense this year and hoping the defense
can win enough close games like last weekend against the
Aztecs.

And if Henne develops slowly the way Navarre did, hopefully
everyone learned a lesson and won’t repeat the “Navarre
treatment,” because it definitely didn’t make things
any easier for him.

Now, there are definitely differences between Henne and Navarre.
As a true freshman, Henne is adjusting to college football
and learning Michigan’s offense, while Navarre had
spent an entire year in Ann Arbor when he filled in for an injured
Drew Henson in 2000.

Also, Navarre wasn’t quite the high-profile recruit Henne
was. It seems like a long time ago, but Henne obviously played well
enough during training camp to warrant a look in the first game of
the season against Miami (Ohio).

And just because fans aren’t putting a ridiculous amount
of heat on Henne doesn’t mean he won’t be feeling
pressure. While Navarre’s starting job was never in jeopardy,
Michigan’s quarterback — whether it’s Henne, Matt
Gutierrez or Clayton Richard — will be facing competition in
practice this year and in years to come.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr believes Michigan fans may have
learned from the Navarre years.

“I think the people who are passionate about Michigan
football understand the difficulty of the challenge Chad
has,” Carr said. “They want him to succeed, and they
understand that he can’t control everything that happens out
there.

“There’s a lot of people that seem to empathize with
Chad’s position, and there’s no question that John just
did not have that.”

Let’s hope Carr’s right and everyone won’t
treat future Michigan quarterbacks the way they did with
Navarre.

By the way, I know watching Arizona Cardinals exhibition games
wasn’t high on your list of priorities, but Navarre had a
quarterback rating of 114.0 and threw the team’s only passing
touchdown of the preseason.

And luckily for him, fans won’t be harassing him anymore.
Though that’s because the Cardinals don’t have
fans.

 

Two people Sharad will never stop criticizing are New York
Mets shortstop (second baseman) Kaz Matsui and New Jersey /
Brooklyn / New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner. And he still
can’t decide on a column name. Send suggestions to him at
href=”mailto:smattu@umich.edu”>smattu@umich.edu.

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