COLUMN: Is Navarre the man?

If Michigan coach Lloyd Carr does name a starter in the next couple of days, it almost has to be John Navarre.

Oh sure, Spencer Brinton had a better spring game (11-of-18, 126 yards and a TD), but most of the competition between the two has gone on behind the walls of Fort Schembechler.

I may not know how the practices have gone, but I know that Carr would have no problem keeping everyone – especially Washington – in the dark on this issue as long as possible.

The Huskies are no doubt already preparing for a Navarre-led squad. So, if Carr were to publicly stand behind his returning starter, then no secrets would be revealed and he could give a boost of confidence to Navarre.

Navarre may be the consensus favorite to start this season, but no one is mistaking him for Drew Henson.

Big games have not treated Navarre well. He threw four interceptions against Ohio State in 2001 and completed just 28 percent of his passes against UCLA in 2000.

Performances like those have made him the easiest target for blame.

"When you come through what he's been through, I think it toughens you," Carr said. "You have an opportunity to learn."

There is no question in my mind that Navarre should be better this year. How much and how fast he learned from his failures will dictate how long that "opportunity" lasts in 2002.

Carr cannot tolerate shoddy play behind center, and I expect that Brinton will be very much prepared to take over should Navarre falter at any point between now and January.

Each day that passes without Navarre being named a starter increases the likelihood, in my mind, that Brinton could see action early on.

But since Brinton has been in Ann Arbor challenging Navarre for a full year now and hasn't made the leap, many people have started searching elsewhere.

Despite the fact that he is just a true freshman, Matt Gutierrez is getting more than his fair share of attention from the fans and media.

Navarre won't win any postseason honors this year, but there is no question that Gutierrez is not the answer for 2002. A true freshman quarterback would be a worst-case scenario for Carr.

Despite all the obvious negatives that have surrounded Navarre (lack of mobility, poor decision making, inability to look off his receivers, etc.), I think he could still be one of the better QBs in the conference by the end of the season.

His teammates like him, respect him, and look to him for leadership. He has lost some weight, gained some speed, and Coach Carr has been his most vocal supporter through all the bad times.

"I think John Navarre has as much ability as a lot of guys that have played quarterback here," Carr said. "He has an excellent arm, he's smart, and he has a work ethic. He's one of those guys that love to study the game. I think he has a chance to be very good."

By the middle of the 2003 season we could be watching John Navarre pass Elvis Grbac to become the leading passer in the history of Michigan football.

Remember, Tom Brady and Brian Griese were not expected to excel the way they did either.

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