Taking too long? Close loading screen.
Connect with us


Can Joe Milton put a stop to Michigan’s quarterback carousel?



When Michigan plays Minnesota on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC), it will mark the first time Jim Harbaugh opens a season as head coach of the Wolverines with a starting quarterback he recruited out of high school.

Let that sink in.

Harbaugh has had holdovers from the previous staff and transfers brought in in an attempt to patch holes in his five previous seasons in Ann Arbor. One of his recruits started a few games, but never someone who won the job in the offseason.

Quarterback hasn’t been Michigan’s only problem, but it is a position that has held its offense back in the past. In 2019, Michigan had a solid offensive line, playmaking wide receivers on the outside and options at running back. But it was missing that final piece.

Coaches hope they now have that in Joe Milton.

“If you said who’s probably one of the most improved players on the team, obviously I would like to throw Joe in that mix,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said. “I don’t want to just say that from a physical standpoint, when we’re talking about improvement and improvement comes in a number of different ways. Leadership, physically and then obviously being able to learn the offense.”

Harbaugh wouldn’t go as far as naming Milton the starter even though he has been running with the first team in practice, but all signs point to the 2018 four-star recruit taking over. A 6-foot-5, 243-pound quarterback from Pahokee, Florida, Milton has the tools and ability to elevate the Wolverines’ offense. Some of his coaches and teammates believe he could be a future first-round NFL draft pick.

As everyone focuses how Michigan’s offense will perform against its toughest competition — mainly Ohio State — it begs the question of whether Milton is the Wolverines’ missing piece.

“I think that he’s, I know that he’s very ready. He’s playing with so much confidence,” safety Brad Hawkins said. “The way that he’s very poised, he comes out there every day ready to work. His confidence is just off the charts and I just can’t wait to see what he brings to the table and what he does for this offense and this football team Saturday.”

Struggles under center

In Harbaugh’s first recruiting class, 2015, Michigan signed ESPN 300 quarterback Zach Gentry, a 6-7, 237-pound prospect from New Mexico who flipped from Texas. He also signed four-star in-state quarterback Alex Malzone. Both of them were options down the road as Harbaugh brought in Jake Rudock, a transfer from Iowa meant to be more a transition piece than a trend-starter.

Rudock threw for 3,017 yards and 20 touchdowns in a 10-3 season, and there was positivity around the program despite losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. But Gentry switched to tight end once he hit campus and Malzone never attempted a pass in three years, eventually transferring to Miami (Ohio).

In 2016, Michigan turned to Brady Hoke recruit Wilton Speight and Houston transfer John O’Korn. Behind them was Brandon Peters, rated the No. 3 pocket passer in the 2016 recruiting class, a quarterback Michigan hoped would be Harbaugh’s big recruit and who was slated to sit and develop before taking over under center.

Michigan went 10-3 again that season, with losses to Iowa and Ohio State, as well as Florida State in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Speight completed 61.6% of his passes and threw for 2,538 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

“Joe got here a semester before me, but I’ve been around Joe just as much as anybody and he’s just lights out right now. It’s very exciting to play alongside him.” Michigan wide receiver Ronnie Bell

The next season brought on many doubts at the quarterback position. Speight broke three vertebrae in his back in a Week 4 win over Purdue, which brought O’Korn and Peters to the field.

The three combined for only nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season. As a team, Michigan finished 113th among all FBS programs in completion percentage, 108th in yards per attempt, 76th in interceptions per attempt and 123rd in touchdowns per attempt.

The hope surrounding Peters deflated after he went 36-for-63 with 482 yards and four touchdowns in games against Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland and Wisconsin. He relinquished the job to Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson and ultimately transferred to Illinois prior to the 2019 season.

Patterson won the job over Dylan McCaffrey, an ESPN 300 quarterback in the 2017 class who has attempted only 35 passes in 11 games — and announced he will transfer after this season — and Milton, who was rated the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the 2018 class.

In 2018, Michigan was 79th in passing yards per game with only 215.7 yards per game, 29th in yards per attempt, 65th in interceptions per attempt, 48th in passing touchdowns overall and 43rd in interceptions overall.

The 2019 season started off rough, but there was a change in the middle of Gattis’ first season as offensive coordinator. Michigan had the biggest improvement in Bill Connelly’s SP+, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency, from the first half to the second, going from 66th to 21st.

The offense started to click in the three games prior to the matchup against Ohio State, a stretch during which Patterson averaged 300.3 yards per game, threw 10 touchdowns to only one interception, and threw catchable attempts on 81.53% of his passes.

The problem, however, came in the five regular-season games against ranked opponents, which accounted for three of Michigan’s four losses in 2019. In those five games, Patterson averaged a 49.6% completion percentage and 209.4 yards passing. He had five touchdowns to four interceptions and his catchable attempts dropped to 72.54%.

It’s those games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State — the biggest stage — where Michigan is looking for leadership and a quarterback who can perform.

That’s where the Wolverines hope Milton can step in.

“We’ve got a quarterback leading the offense, leading the entire team in a very special way,” defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said. “You look at Joe and you just, you’re just excited for Joe because you know everything he’s gone through to get to this point. … It’s like, seeing all of that come to fruition is incredible and what we have at quarterback is very special.

“A very special leader, very special guy and I’m very excited for him.”

‘You knew one day … it’ll be his time’

When the Wolverines signed Milton in 2018, an assistant coach said privately he believed Milton would eventually be the best quarterback Harbaugh has had at Michigan.

What Milton brings to the table that’s different than Michigan’s past quarterbacks begins with his physical attributes. He has the size and the ability to make plays with his feet. Gattis and defensive coordinator Don Brown also note Milton’s power with his arm, something that can be a blessing and a curse. That has been part of his development: He doesn’t need to use all his speed and power in every throw.

“Everyone’s got all five fingers, so there’s no fingers getting jammed out there, no one losing anything,” Gattis said. “His accuracy has been exceptional, and that was one of the things we had talked about as far as taking RPMs off of it. Knowing how to give a catchable ball and that was never — accuracy as far as ball placement was never an issue.

“Sometimes the issue had been in the past is whether or not those receivers could catch it that fast.”

What might separate Milton most, though, is his confidence and his command of the offense and the team. Brown said Milton sometimes pops into his office to ask about coverages and the defense’s different looks to help him prepare. Leadership can’t be quantified and being a vocal leader is something that is learned, but Michigan has needed that presence at quarterback.

“You watch him grow since freshman year and I go back to Joe’s freshman year when he was scout quarterback,” Kemp said. “How he led the scout team, you knew one day that, OK, this guy right here, when it’s his time, it’ll be his time and it’s going to be very special. And now he’s grown up into his third year with the same guys that he used to lead on that scout team.”

Sure, Michigan’s recent quarterback history cautions against buying into the hype, and Milton has yet to start a game for the Wolverines. But there is a different sense of optimism when it comes to Milton.

“Joe as a quarterback, I talked about it with one of the guys probably like a week ago, this is the best I’ve ever seen Joe,” Ronnie Bell, Michigan’s leading receiver in 2019, said in September. “Joe got here a semester before me, but I’ve been around Joe just as much as anybody and he’s just lights out right now. It’s very exciting to play alongside him.”

The Wolverines have recruited more speed to accommodate what Gattis wants to see on the field, in the form of wide receivers Mike Sainristil, Giles Jackson, A.J. Henning and Roman Wilson. There’s finally a group of running backs to give Michigan a strong ground game, with Zach Charbonnet, Chris Evans, Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum and Christian Turner.

There are pieces around Milton that will ease the pressure on him. Michigan doesn’t need Milton to be mistake-free, but the Wolverines need him to elevate the offense against tougher competition on the schedule. They need him to solidify himself as a trustworthy and reliable passer to stop the quarterback carousel.

“I just like to credit [quarterbacks] Coach [Ben] McDaniels and Coach Harbaugh and those guys developing that position, because I’ll tell you it was scary a little bit for us, losing a quarterback, a starting quarterback,” Gattis said. “Going into the offseason, I really challenged [the quarterbacks] and said, ‘Hey, we need someone to step up and show us they can lead this team.’ And what we’ve seen so far from Cade [McNamara, a sophomore] and Joe, both those guys display a tremendous amount of talent to be able to lead this team at the quarterback position, and obviously both guys are playing really well.”


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


Continue Reading


Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


Continue Reading


The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


Continue Reading