Post-Mortem: Quarterback Comment Count

Brian December 5th, 2008 at 2:57 PM

A position-by-position look at Michigan's 2009 season.

death suicidal kitten dead-kitten_01 

Preseason Expectations

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:

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.

And Feagin:

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:

(caption) Michigan QBs Steven Threet (10) and Nick Sheridan (far right) walk off the field after the loss. *** Notre Dame takes advantage of six U-M turnovers to beat the Wolverines 35-17 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.  Photos taken on Saturday, September 13, 2008.  ( John T. Greilick / The Detroit News )

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.)

Comments

heckdchi

December 5th, 2008 at 4:09 PM ^

Does anyone else see similarities between Threet's year and Navarre's first year (3 or 4 games or whatever) when he played for the injured Henson? I think Threet is a guy who could be ok to pretty good (9-3 and win a January bowl in Florida good) with time to develop.

However, Threet is physically a pro style, drop back passer who will likely get surpassed next year by one of the freshmen based on their skills more ideally suiting the offense, in my opinion.

baleedat

December 5th, 2008 at 4:09 PM ^

I remember you predicting, before the start of the season, that Sheridan would get the first start, then lose the starting spot to Threet, then win it back to finsh out the season.

blueman

December 5th, 2008 at 4:19 PM ^

I expect one of the true frosh to start from the get go or maybe after a brief starting stint by Threet of not more than 2 games. I just hope we don't try rotating the frosh so that neither gets fully comfortable being the starter. If the frosh flop, it will be trick or Threet!

chitownblue (not verified)

December 5th, 2008 at 4:39 PM ^

I'm not really expressing an opinion on who should play, but:

I like Steven Threet. I think he had nuts - he played injured, repeatedly, and still did stuff like put his shoulder down, dive for extra yardage, and constantly get back up for another crack. If there was one player whose play made me forge a personal interest him this year, it was Threet. He was, admittedly, frequently not pretty. But he gave blood, sweat, and tears and didn't seem to ever really get down.

Engin77

December 5th, 2008 at 5:36 PM ^

sort of like the bridge-guarding knight from Monty Python & the Holy Grail, who will not yield his position in spite of the loss of one limb after the other.
I'll never forget Threet's 58 yd run in the 4th Quarter against Wiscy.

WolverineinDallas

December 5th, 2008 at 6:23 PM ^

I kinda disagree with the "horrible set of receivers" comment. Unless of course you are referring to all of the injuries that occured (which also resulted in Tony Clemons switching to the slot).

Regardless of what happened this year, I think our receiving unit is going to be very good next. I am excited to see what they can do--Mathews, Stonum, Hemmingway, Clemons, Odoms, Robinson, etc.... Apart from Odoms, all of those guys were highly rated recruits--Now it is just up to the quarterback to get them the ball.

Magnus

December 6th, 2008 at 12:30 AM ^

This is a minor point, but Clemons was playing in the slot during spring practice last year. He didn't really switch positions when people started to get hurt. Although if we had more slot receivers in the first place, he very well could have stayed at outside receiver.

Blue Balls

December 5th, 2008 at 6:38 PM ^

in this offense, I'd be surprised to see the Bev or Tate get a red shirt unless hurt. Yes, Threet can handle the QB role and will likely start the first game. I would go after another highly regarded QB next year and plan on playing these two players as much as possible. My question is with this qb option to run offense, wouldn't it make sense to rotate both players if the game allowed such. I think Beaver is going to surprise alot of people with his abilites.

MaizeAndBlueWahoo

December 5th, 2008 at 11:27 PM ^

I like Threet. Dude runs with cojones, and cojones will take you a long way, even if you're a 6'5" galoot who didn't sign up for this damn running thing.

But man oh man. Quarterback was the one non-special teams position that had me begging "please please please don't fuck this up" on every play. Even the safeties didn't cause such pre-snap heartburn, but I think that's because it's really hard to identify a bad angle until the results are already painfully obvious. Of course, most of the pre-snap/pre-play death omens came from the kick/punt returners, but still: the quarterbacks shortened my life this year.

Magnus

December 6th, 2008 at 12:37 AM ^

I think Threet is getting a bad rap for his running abilities. I really didn't think he was that bad of a runner, and I didn't think he took that many big hits, either. He has decent speed (see: 58 yard run), he juked people (see: Miami game), and he ran hard (see: PSU game). He dinged his elbow, which doesn't require a monstrous hit to do. He did get a concussion, but overall I thought he was a decent runner.

He does need to work on his decision-making (i.e. keep the ball, dammit!), but that's to be expected for a pro-style QB in his first year in the read option. I don't think people should discount him as a potential long-term solution at QB. I'm not saying he'll win/keep the job for the next three years, but he's got some tools to work with. If he can tighten up his mechanics and thus his accuracy, he could be a weapon.

bhallpm

December 6th, 2008 at 10:22 AM ^

I (remain) a believer in RichRod. I am excited by his commitment to focus much of his recruiting efforts in the South (note: read this Wall Street Journal article on the rise of the SEC and the level of players down there: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122843720586081461.html) and hopeful with the new QB recruits he's bringing in.

But as I sit here watching ESPN, just like the Wolverines, getting ready to watch FLorida in the SEC championship game, I think back to how the retiring Lloyd for only once let the team down at the start of last year, but then picked them up and -- still hard to believe -- led the team to a spanking of Urban Meyer's Florida. What a great way for him to go out.

jmblue

December 6th, 2008 at 8:31 PM ^

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.

Griese really wasn't a walk-on. Moeller recruited him, but we ran out of scholarships by the time he committed. At any rate, a scholarship opened up by the time his freshman season (1993) started, so he got a free ride all the same. He was always considered a legit option at QB, unlike Sheridan (or any other real walk-on).

hackattack13

December 8th, 2008 at 1:34 AM ^

i played against threet in high school and the guy needs to drop the fridge and the trailor inorder to be considered fast. i think part of the reason he runs so with no regard is because he never has before and he does not know how to slide or protect his body. in high school he was straight up dropback and he had a fast shifty rb to dump the ball off to. he never scrambled and if you got past the oline it was an easy sack. i expected him to be able to scramble more this year (it happend) but i expected him to have improved his passing (didnt seem to be the case). idk but he never impressed me in high school and i never thought that he deserved the 4 star rating he was given. i think it will be interesting to see his improvement in this offseason and see how he compares to forcier and bever. my prediction is that he will start but will be takin over for by forcier (just because he is more polished imo than beaver)

Magnus

December 8th, 2008 at 9:14 AM ^

The dude outran one of the Big Ten's fastest linebacker, Jonathan Casillas, for 58 yards. Just because he didn't run much in high school doesn't mean he's hitched to a "trailer and a refrigerator." If you watch the games, he's plenty fast enough to run this offense. It's his decision-making that's still in question.

hackattack13

December 8th, 2008 at 10:22 AM ^

i agree that hes improved on his speed (i believe i said he scrambles better or something of that nature) but he is by no means fast. the old joke around town was that his forty time was his height...a 6 5. but barwis has improved that but his passing and decision making was not as improved as i thought or desired. i can only remember about 2 or 3 times where he clearly went through his progressions and delivered a good ball. i think to run rich rods offense ideally you either your qb to be faster or a really good decision maker or both. threet has to improve on both to be keep his job next year in my opinion

tpilews

December 12th, 2008 at 9:20 PM ^

All you guys talking about Threet's 58 yd run against Wisci need to go back and watch the first half of that game again. What was it, -7 yds of total offense the first half?

Seriously, the guy had a couple of good runs all year, that's it. He threw the ball decently a couple games, but was terribly inconsistent over the course of the entire season.

I admire his courage and devotion to UM just as much as the next guy. But, I, in no means, think he will see the playing field next year.

tpilews

December 12th, 2008 at 9:25 PM ^

His decision making inability is exactly the reason why one of the freshman will start in front of him. Both Tate and Shavodrick have run spread offenses their entire high school careers, and perhaps even growing up. Both guys will already have a better understanding of the offense than Threet did at this time last year. They should be able to pick up the offense at a faster pace because of their experiences in similar schemes. And, their superior skill set for this offense should take care of the rest. Oh, and Tate has pretty flawless mechanics and a very accurate arm to boot.

chitownblue (not verified)

December 12th, 2008 at 9:39 PM ^

I thought his decision-making ability was largely good. It's hard to over-state how hurt he was. They called fewer option plays, and he stopped keeping the ball as much when his elbows got hurt. His hurt throwing elbow also completely fucked any semblance of arm strengh and, thus, accuracy, he had.