A position-by-position look at Michigan's 2009 season.
The season preview's section on quarterbacks was pretty grim. The main comparison point was the 1995 season, when Scott Driesbach started as a freshman and was knocked out for walk-on Brian Griese. In retrospect, that's freakin' eerie, man. If the coaching staff hadn't inexplicably decided to go with Sheridan at the beginning of the year it would be a virtual carbon copy of that season's QB situation, except for the fact that Sheridan isn't going to lead a national championship team, get drafted in the third round, and have a decade-long NFL career.
That didn't mean 1995 was any good:
Michigan quarterbacks combined for 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, completed about 53% of their passes, and struggled to crack seven yards per attempt with an All-Star cast of future NFL receivers: Amani Toomer, Jay Reimersma, Mercury Hayes.
That set the stage for a discussion of the three options. Sheridan:
He’s the son of Bill Sheridan, currently the linebackers coach for the Giants and for three years a defensive position coach under Lloyd Carr. He was honorable mention all conference in high school. He’s about six foot, maybe six one, supposedly more mobile than the competition but more limited in terms of arm strength. And that’s all anyone knows about him.
What limited intelligence we have from practice reports indicates Sheridan is a typical Northwestern quarterback, noodle-armed but bright and mobile-ish. He’s been more consistent than the competition, throws well on the run, and contrary to rumor can heave the ball farther than five yards, as this video of the “Beanie Bowl” indicates. He could be a non-liability who successfully keeps the heat off the other skill position players, and how’s that for Backhanded Compliment Of The Year?
Threet is a classic dropback artillery piece in the Navarre/Mallett/Grbac mold, 6’5” and ponderous. He was a well-respected recruit, getting four stars from the gurus and landing in the top ten pro-style quarterbacks, but reports from practice have him tentative, erratic, and slow both mentally and physically. In the winter he was lauded as an emerging leader who the team actually liked, unlike that Mallett guy; this has not translated to the field. Sheridan’s likely to struggle at some point and Rodriguez keeps saying he wants “two guys he can win with,” so Threet will see the field at some point. He’s reputed to have a bigger arm and more big-play potential… for both teams.
He’s a heck of an athlete, the small-school player of the year in Florida last year and third in their Mr. Football voting. LSU and Miami offered him as a WR/DB.
Unfortunately, he does not appear to be much of a quarterback at this point. Rodriguez claimed Feagin would “have to make an impression in the first two weeks” if he was going to be a serious candidate for playing time; a recent curtailment of his snaps indicates this impression has not been made. A week or so ago, Rodriguez made it clear he was not an option early: “He's not close to being ready.”
I do have some inside baseball indicating that the coaching staff expects to work him in at some point during the season just to see what he can do; the most likely outcome is a few drives here and there that end poorly and a position swap once Beaver and Newsome hit campus in January.
When pressed (by myself) for a definitive answer on the quarterbacking situation in the "five answers, five questions" post, I provided this:
It is possible this ends well. Michigan will surround Sheridan with a deep and varied set of receiving targets, and the spread ‘n shred can turn a wobbly-armed but heady passer into Zak Kustok or Bret Basanez. It doesn’t demand the precision howitzer Carr’s pro-style system did. The physical limitations (and senior year injury) that forced Sheridan to walk-on somewhere don’t have to be fatal.
But if we’re being honest with ourselves there’s little chance it starts well. The note of distress coming from practice observers and press conferences is clear, and the scary thing is a lot of the reported problems are things like “throws bubble screens backwards.” (Michigan fans are going to find out how spoiled Chad Henne’s unerring accuracy on screens made them.)
(Oh Holy God how I wish that sentence was not 100% accurate. Also the sentence before it.)
Though practice reports got less alarmed as fall camp progressed—there was even video evidence of Sheridan completing passes farther than six yards downfield—Michigan's best hope here is for something functional, a guy who can throw a bunch of screens and keep the offense moving.
This was the best hope. It did not come to fruition.
The Horrible Truth
It was immediately, bloodily obvious that whatever hopes Michigan had for the quarterback situation should be tossed out the window. The Utah game aftermath:
Every rational thought in your head suggests that the whole walk-on or freshman-the-coaches-are-panicked-about at quarterback, the line of baling wire and the occasional confused chicken, and freshmen everywhere at the skill positions will combine to yield an offense worthy of Yakety Sax, but until you actual see the damn thing in action you can hold out hope it will be otherwise.
We have seen it in action. It could have gone better.
There was a single-sentence bullet that's so very poignant now:
Feagin? I mean… he couldn’t have been worse.
Thus dies optimism in the House of Bo.
Threet then came in as a starter for the Notre Dame game and played spectacularly given the situation:
…that was a massive step forward from Threet, a performance virtually any freshman would be pleased with. Threet was confident, mostly accurate, and mostly right. Mental mistakes were limited to a couple of open receivers he passed up for more difficult throws and that one pass that should have been intercepted. (The other BR was a fly route on third and long which would have been a punt if intercepted.) He looked like a viable quarterback now and for the future.
That didn't last, though. Wisconsin:
As far as how the day went? Poorly. In past years we've had a metric where you add up all the good (CA+DO), add up all the bad (everything else other than PR), and take out all the screens to come up with a Competence Ratio. Threet's competence ratio in this game is 48%, which is below the 50-50 Mallett line and well short of the 2/3rds ratio that is a normal good quarterback. This was a major step back from the Notre Dame game.
Toledo was bad, too, but I chalked that up to Threet being injured, and that was obviously accurate. This from the Penn State game was, too, except I had to go back and chart him after the Minnesota and Northwestern (and upcoming Ohio State) games:
I'm not charting Sheridan anymore, by the way, as there's no point. We're very clear on his deficiencies by now and he won't see the field again after this year unless he's the last survivor of a meteor impact.
Threet returned for Michigan State:
So, yeah, ugly, ugly performance from Threet, back on the downswing from a good half against Penn State. I don't think this is all on his head, though. As Sean McDonough noted, it looked like Threet was really looping passes out to his receivers. He reminded me of no one so much as deposed Auburn starter Chris Todd, who can rainbow slants. I saw it, man.
Anyway, that elbow is obviously still bothering Threet.
And then Sheridan came in, got nicknamed Death, defied that nickname by going 18 for 30 in a dominating win over Minnesota, got re-nicknamed Suicidal Kitten in the aftermath, and didn't defy that nickname at all. Exeunt 2008.
2009, And Beyond
I mean no offense to Nick Sheridan, a scout-team quarterback pressed into service by a series of unfortunate events so vast in their scope as to be unprecedented at a program like Michigan, but God willing we never see him on the field again. And The Coner(!) is behind him. And Justin Feagin is a slot receiver.
So. We are left with this guy:
Steven Threet. At times (specifically, the Notre Dame game and the first half of the Penn State game) Threet looked like a D-I quarterback you can make a New Year's Day bowl with. He looked bonafide. And some of his less stellar moments can be blamed on youth, a new system, a shaky line, a horrible set of receivers, rain, elbow injuries, and the general bloody-mindedness of the universe. He even proved somewhat nimble.
You are waiting for the "but." Okay: but I just don't see it. On those keepers he was somewhat nimble on he was injured, twice, and that seemed like no accident. Threet's reaction to incoming defenders was to sort of slow down and attempt to Heisman them or juke them or something—what, exactly, was never clear—and that lead to a lot of incidents where Threet's upper and lower bodies were in extreme disagreement as to which direction the whole should be going. Separated shoulders and elbow injuries and concussions followed. There's a reason football put in that slide rule for quarterbacks, and it's because of guys like Steven Threet. He gon' die if asked to run 15 times a game.
And I don't think that's fixable. That's an instinctual thing. Running back is the spot in both college and the NFL at which you can throw in a freshman or rookie and do pretty well for yourself. You are trying not to get yourself killed, and you revert to base instincts.
So can Rodriguez deal with a quarterback who will die if you ask him to run 15 times a game? Probably not. Or, at least, there seem to be no point when you've got a couple guys who can do that and probably won't be that far off him in the passing game, at which Threet was incredibly inconsistent last year.
I'm not writing him off. Threet, unlike Sheridan, will be a viable competitor for the starting job next year. I even expect him to be the opening day starter. I don't expect he'll make it through the year as the starter, though. A discussion of Shavodrick Beaver and Tate Forcier is more properly executed in a recruiting post, but suffice it to say both are guys Rodriguez brought in for his system, and they'll get a spring to see what they can do.
(Threet picture found with aid from the indispensable Mike DeSimone.)