Spring Preview: The Quarterbacks

With Spring Practice just a week away, GoBlueWolverine.com will preview each position on the Michigan offense and defense -- both for the spring and in the fall. We begin with a look at how the quarterbacks stack up.

Oh, how times have changed. A year ago at this time, a debate raged among the followers of the Maize and Blue. A debate focusing entirely on quarterback John Navarre. Following a catastrophic 2001 season, his support waned greatly among Wolverine fans. Did he have the leadership? Did he have the athletic ability? Did he have the confidence to lead Michigan? Would Spencer Brinton pass him up in the spring? And a shaky Spring Game from Navarre only deepened the perceived quarterback controversy.

Oh, how times have changed. Just one year later, there is no question of who the starter will be. John Navarre stepped up in 2002, effectively silencing all critics, and vindicating his supporters from the previous year. In 2002, he proved to be steady, dependable, and everything that one would expect from a Michigan quarterback. Navarre completed the year on a high note, with a dazzling performance against Florida, finishing the season with an impressive 20:7 touchdown to interception ratio. No one is complaining anymore, and his success has generated a wave of optimism going into 2003. With an experienced offensive line, and returning stars at running back and wide receiver, Navarre will have plenty of help on offense as well. There are no more thoughts of who will replace Navarre. Now, the focus lies on just how good he could become. Michigan fans will anxiously await the April 12th Spring Game, when they will have the opportunity to see first hand how the senior quarterback has progressed.

Former Assistant Recruiting Coordinator Mark Ouimet adds: "John Navarre, John Navarre, John Navarre. That pretty much says it quarterback-wise this year. This year Navarre is 'the answer'; he has to lead Michigan through the season. Navarre will be fighting with OSU's Kraig Krenzel, PSU's Zach Mills, and possibly MSU's Jeff Smoker for All Big Ten. Navarre has a lot of starters coming back around him, and big things are ahead."
"In the spring ... Navarre is a veteran of course, but he will still get a lot of reps, in order to fine-tune the Wolverine offense."

John Navarre (Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel)

In the meantime, a new debate has emerged in regards to the quarterback position. The focus is no longer on the starter, but on the backups. The big question on everyone's mind entering Spring Practice is if redshirt freshman Matt Gutierrez can overtake incumbent backup Spencer Brinton. Brinton entered the season with much fanfare, but ended up with very little to show for it. The San Diego State transfer attempted just 20 passes on the year, completing 11 of them. However, Brinton may still be the favorite to back up Navarre, with an extra year in the system and starting experience at San Diego State. This will be an interesting battle to watch, as Gutierrez is certain to push for the job.

Mark Ouimet: "Spencer Brinton is number two right now, and he will not go down (in the depth chart) easy. It'll be a battle between Brinton and Matt Gutierrez. Both will get a lot of reps in the spring. The second Michigan quarterback will get some chances in games this year, particularly the first two against CMU and Houston. In fact, both backups could play in those games."

Spencer Brinton (Getty Images/Danny Moloshok)

Highly touted Matt Gutierrez redshirted in 2002, learning the system, and developing his skills as a quarterback.. Similar to Brinton, the redshirt freshman quarterback provides a slightly more mobile option than fans are used to seeing in Navarre. However, Gutierrez remains slight of build at this time. The big question will be if a redshirt freshman is mentally ready to take over in the event of an emergency. As Michigan fans have learned in the past; that level of inexperience is very difficult to overcome. If Gutierrez does win the job as backup, it will speak very highly of his skills, and point to a very bright future for the Wolverines. But Michigan fans should not be alarmed if that doesn't happen. It's rare for such a young player to even be in position to grab the backup job at quarterback.

Mark Ouimet: "Gutierrez will have every chance to beat out Brinton this spring. Michigan will give both Gutierrez and Brinton lots of chances in the spring. My opinion: by September 1st I think Gutierrez will likely be the #2 guy. He is Michigan's future, he needs the reps, he needs the opportunities; plus he's athletic, he's smart, and he has the ability to get the job done. I look for both Matt and Spencer in the CMU game, and I think we will see more of Matt in games and practice as the season goes on ... he is the future."

Matt Gutierrez (AP Photo/Paul Warner)

In the fall, Michigan will welcome highly regarded quarterback Clayton Richard into the fold. While among the nation's elite in high school, the lefty star is expected to redshirt and develop his skills. In 2004, the competition will open up between Richard and Gutierrez, as the only two quarterbacks on the roster. The loss of Sam Keller to Arizona State leaves Michigan's depth at quarterback in a scary situation for 2004. Especially considering Richard's potential as a pro-baseball prospect, and past injuries to the wrist of Gutierrez. As a result, quarterback recruiting will be a prime focus for the class of 2004. And with the potential of early playing time as a selling point, Michigan should be an attractive choice.

Clayton Richard

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