Michigan’s Wilton Speight knows he must earn starting QB job

By MARK SNYDER

Tribune News Service

Wilton Speight knows what’s coming.

In his fourth spring at Michigan and third under U-M coach Jim Harbaugh, Speight knows the only certainty is nothing is certain.

After least season’s 10-3 record, plus this spring’s work, Harbaugh reinforced Speight is the current starter.

But Harbaugh reminded the depth chart can change.

“That’s how coach operates, that’s ingrained into all of our minds,” Speight said after Saturday’s U-M spring game at Michigan Stadium. “You hear coach says at the banquet say he thinks I’ll be one of the best quarterbacks in the country next year. But then today he says, ‘I’m throwing out the balls and whatever happens, happens.’ That’s just how he works. That’s what we’ve all embraced and accepted it.

“I’m sure today’s showing won’t help that and I’m sure there’s going to be all kinds of buzz going around. But hey, it’s part of being coach Harbaugh’s quarterback.”

On the outside, the “buzz” was about redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters, whose impressive performance turned heads and incited the fan base.

Internally, Speight saw the buzz about his own problems, completing 9-for-26 passes for 78 yards. Some incompletions were on missed targets and there were a number of throwaways after escaping the pocket.

What sticks out are what Speight called “the two boneheaded decisions.”

Two interceptions, the first by freshman Ben St-Juste, and the one that will linger: Jordan Glasgow picking him off in the end zone and returning it more than 100 yards for a touchdown.

That was more than a lost possession. It was a 14-point swing.

It’s a lesson learned over the past three-plus years.

“Part of being the Michigan quarterback, there’s going to be a lot of eyes, a lot of criticism, a lot of praise,” Speight said.

His demeanor and on-field composure sold him to the Michigan coaches last spring, as he pulled ahead of fellow quarterback John O’Korn. Those traits allowed Speight to seal the job in the fall.

Now he has to win it again.

“I saw a quote from Tom Brady very recently after this fifth Super Bowl (win) that ‘I’ve got to be in there every day because I don’t know who’s going to come in and maybe take my job,’ ” Speight said. “Obviously not comparing the two of us, but you have to have that mind-set at every moment. You’ve got to be on your toes at all times.”

Expecting Speight to return to top form so quickly after last year’s late collarbone/shoulder injury may be unrealistic.

He has all new receiving targets, with his seniors wideouts and tight end heading to the NFL.

Plus he has a revamped offensive line — three starters are gone and center Mason Cole is now at left tackle — and a new passing game coordinator in Pep Hamilton.

There are new offensive concepts, different terminology and a new voice in Hamilton.

“He wants me to be as successful as possible,” Speight said. “It’s all tough love. It’s not hair trigger. One of the things I’ve learned about him is it’s never too high, it’s never too low, it’s always even keel. That’s one thing I like.”

There’s more growth to come.

Hamilton arrived in Ann Arbor three months ago, so most of their interaction centers on football.

Which is why next week’s Rome trip may have unseen benefits.

“Coach Pep and I have a good relationship,” Speight said. “We’ll get to know each other a bit more in Europe when we have some time to talk about something other than football.”

There are new faces on both sides of the ball, but all eyes will remain on Speight, who insists the push from Peters isn’t a threat.

“It’s not that hard at all,” Speight said. “Last year with John (O’Korn) and I, it was such a tight competition in the spring the whole time and through camp he was very supportive of me. It’s not hard. Brandon’s an unreal dude, he’s a good friend of mine.”

Saturday was a rough day for Speight, the opposite of a year earlier when he was sharp in the spring game and only played a little more than a series.

The coaches will remind him it was practice No. 11 of 15. And with one more in Ann Arbor and three practices in Rome looming, it’s not the final impression.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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