Over the past forty years, strong quarterback play has become one of the staples of the Michigan football program. Dating all the way back to the seventies when Dennis Franklin and Rick Leach donned the winged helmet, the man behind center for the maize and blue has been the center of attention. That has been especially true in recent years with Jim Harbaugh, Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Scott Dreisbach, Brian Griese, Tom Brady, Drew Henson and John Navarre all going on to have NFL careers. Even the obvious talents possessed by each of the aforementioned signal callers, they all had to deal with the pressure that comes along with leading one of the nation's most storied programs. It has been no different for Chad Henne. A highly touted as a high school player, Henne has had his share of success at Michigan. However, last year's 7-5 record has put a lot of pressure on the team as a whole, and Henne in particular, to improve and turn things around this year.
The first step towards doing that was becoming more of a vocal leader. After getting thrown right into the fire as a true freshman, Henne naturally let the upperclassmen handle that duty and opted instead to lead by example. Now as he heads into his junior season, he feels it's time to change that. "As a quarterback you need to be more of a vocal leader," said Henne. "I tried to come out in the Spring and lead our team."
Henne's decision to become more assertive is an obvious sign of his maturation. It is often said that the biggest leap in development for a quarterback takes place between years two and three. Quarterbacks coach Scott Loeffler saw that growth and maturity in young pupil during the offseason.
"Obviously with age, his leadership skills and taking control of the offense has really improved over this last 6-8 months," said Loeffler. "We're going to focus on making plays when they present themselves and taking care of the football."
There were whispers that Loeffler and Henne would be working hard throughout the spring to make some mechanical changes to the youngster's delivery. When asked if that were indeed the case, both indicated nothing needed to be changed. "Same release," Henne said matter-of-factly. "There wasn't anything last year. I throw it like I always do and I wont' change anything about it."
Loeffler, who is widely regarded as one of the nation's finest quarterback coaches, agreed with Henne's take.
"Chad's release is excellent," said Loeffler. "When you truly evaluate him with all the camera angles that we have, his release is excellent."
Loeffler and Henne
One area that everyone agrees has been a strong part of Henne's game is his durability. The Pennsylvania native has started every game of his college career. Even so, the threat of injury is present on every play and that reality shines a light on the big question mark at the back-up quarterback position. Neither Jason Forcier nor David Cone have taken a single regular season snap. That makes this fall practice even more intense, as Loeffler works hard with both of the young signal callers to try to establish viable depth at the position.
"This training camp is going to be huge for those young guys," Loeffler said. "We're going to try to find a way to get ourselves a solid backup.
Another question-mark has emerged in the gadgetry package Michigan deployed last season in which Antonio Bass occasionally took snaps as a running/option quarterback. When Bass went down for the season with a knee injury, many thought those plays would be taken out of the playbook. Then freshman running back (and high school option quarterback) Carlos Brown was seen running some of those plays in the Spring. It's likely that he'll be used in that capacity to some extent in the fall, but at this point, Loeffler does not anticipate using it very much. "We used Carlos Brown in the Spring to simulate the spread offense for our defense," he explained, "All those periods that we used Carlos at quarterback was for our defense."
With the uncertainty about depth, it's clear that Michigan's season rests largely on Henne's shoulders. After showing he has ice water in his veins during several last-minute comebacks the last couple seasons, it is clear he is mentally tough enough to handle it. That will be important, as several of the Wolverines' key games come on the road.
"It's going to be a great challenge," Henne said regarding the difficult road schedule, "Playing away is a boost for our team because you're by yourself in there. It's just your team."