Rays of Light: : Evaluating the U-M QBs

Former Michigan standout and Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray provides extensive breakdowns on the strengths of Wolverine signal callers Shane Morris, Wilton Speight, and Alex Malzone, and the parts of their respective games that need the most work.

Sam Webb:  I think everyone knows at this point that when you talk about the quarterback position that it is a work in progress.  It is going to be a work in progress all spring into the fall and into games even.  When you watch their growing pains right now, how do (those issues) really manifest?  Are they throwing a bunch of picks, are they going the wrong place with ball, or is it just recognizing things late… inaccuracy?  When you see them stumble, how are the stumbles manifesting themselves?

Marcus Ray:  “For the most part, I think it is ball placement and knowing where to put the football.  When you watch a NFL game and you watch a guy throw an out-cut pattern, he knows exactly where to put it… away from the defender to the sideline on the back shoulder of a receiver.  I think these young quarterbacks are throwing the football.  They’re trying to complete the pass at the receiver on deeper patterns instead of throwing to a reception point… to where the receiver is going to be.  So sometimes that leads to tips and overthrows or when you force the ball into tight coverage.  When you don’t have the arm or experience to defeat tight coverage, that’s when you’ll see the turnovers and tip balls and overthrown passes.  When you’re a young quarterback and competing, there are two things that probably make you nervous.  Number one, you don’t want to make the coach mad because you want to throw the football where he wants you to throw it because most coaches want the ball to go down the field.  But if nothing is there you want to check down to a back or a tight end on one of the shorter patterns.  You also want to maintain your mechanics too.  When you get a defensive lineman who is rushing at you and blitzing and linebackers, live bullets, now your mechanics may change… your read may change.  These are young quarterbacks.  I think some of the struggles that we’re all seeing at the quarterback position are freshman (mistakes).” 

“They are young guys and so they are going to make young mistakes.  They’re not superstars, they’re not a Christian Hackenberg who just walked in and was ready to go.  He had a learning curve too. You have to understand, Malzone probably has the advantage because he wasn’t coached by anyone else before he got here.  This is his first experience.  Speight and Shane; they were going through a different system, different quarterback coach, different terminology.  I think Malzone probably has an advantage from that standpoint where he doesn’t have any bad habits to break other than what he learned in high school.  It just comes down to who can learn the system and be the most efficient.  Harbaugh’s offense is going to be about efficiency, running the football and protecting the football as a quarterback.  If you turn it over, then you won’t be in there.  This is not going to be a situation where you watch a guy like Devin Gardner throw a bunch of interceptions and stay in the game.  I watched one center make a false start with the football and Jim called for him to come out of the game.  ‘Hey give me another center! Give me a center!’… and just switched.  There is zero tolerance with mistakes, but at the quarterback position, you’ve got to cut them some slack because they’re young.  But you don’t want to be too easy on them because they won’t develop.  They’re all competing.  There are a lot of them standing right there and everybody is getting reps and the best man is going to rise without any excuses.”

Sam Webb:  I’ve talked about their skillsets and you’ve talked about their respective skillsets also.  As you’ve watched them over these practices, I’d like to have you highlight both aspects of performance.  If you could say, ‘there is one thing that this guy has done well’ and ‘this is one thing I really see that he needs to improve on,’… what would those things be at the quarterback position?

Marcus Ray:  “Shane Morris struggles with accuracy and confidence.  I think when he throws the football, he throws it too hard on some of the short passes, or he’ll try to gun it in there and try to defeat tight coverage and the ball will get tipped.  The kid with a strong arm has a lot of confidence (in his arm), like a Brett Farve, they’re going to throw it anyways because they believe they can get it there.”

Wilton Speight, his touch on the football is pretty good.  He throws the deep ball the best.  He knows exactly how much air and velocity on the football and then if there is tight coverage, he knows exactly where to throw it to a back shoulder route on the sideline when a wide receiver is trying to go vertical on a cornerback and he has great coverage, but when you throw it to the back shoulder, that’s a hard pass to defend.  I think Wilton does that the best, but he lacks consistency.  I think there are some passes to the tight end across the middle that he overshoots because he can’t really gauge, ‘should I gun it, should I put touch on it, or should I just hold onto it?’

“Malzone, I think he holds the ball the longest, a little bit too much, but he shows the best escapability.  If he breaks from the pocket, something is going to happen.  He’s going to find a guy.  I think that is what he does the best.  I think he checks the ball down, more times than not, which allows his quarterback rating to probably go up in the coaches eyes.  He’s not forcing balls downfield.  He’ll check it down to a running back, right over the ball to a tight end.  Then when things break down, he can get out of there and still stay alive, but I think he may struggle with straight drop backs, seeing the passing lanes in between guard and tackle and center/guard gaps.  I think that’s about it for the most part.”

Sam Webb:  What have you seen Shane do well?

Marcus Ray:  “He commands the offense.  When he steps out there, when he makes that pass, he makes it.  There was one time where he threw about an eight yard curl route to a tight end and zipped it between two linebackers.  So he shows the most potential to make that close range throw.  Sometimes it is too hard, but when he makes it, he makes it.  What he needs to do is identify his receiver.  Some guys can catch a hot potato, but some guys can’t.  But everything he throws is hot.  The thing I think he does the best is command the offense, but when he does make that throw, you’re not going to pick it off if he figures out what to put on it.  I think he knows his arm the best out of everybody else too.”

“When it comes to these three quarterbacks, the part that I left out was, Shane Morris throws the bubble screen the best I think because he has a strong arm and it is a quick release especially when he is throwing a bubble to his left.  When I say bubble, it is just a short pass outside to the slot receiver like you may see Norfleet catch.  Malzone, I think he runs the bootleg pass the best.  He sells the fake… that’s just a play-action pass.  Boot action, he’ll fake the football, and tuck it, but it’s him on the move.  Something that I think he needs to do I think to have more success, to get him on the move.  What Wilton Speight I think does the best in the drop back pass game, where it is just, ‘set, hut,’ and it is you know it is a pass, and he is scanning the field immediately.  When those other guys are trying to do those others things that they’re not good at, that’s when you see a little bit of struggle.  The guy that is going to have the most success depends on which play is called.  If you’re asking Shane to run a bootleg, that might not be his thing.  If you’re asking Malzone to throw that bubble screen, it may get there late and it is a two yard loss… but if Shane throws it, it is a five yard gain.  If you’re asking Wilton Speight to do the rollout, then that backside defensive end might track him down because he is not as athletic or fleet of foot as the other two.”

“If you’re going to play quarterback, you have to be able to do all three.  Depending on the play call and who is in there that’s who is going to look best on that play.”

For more of Ray's commentary, listen to the podcast below.

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