Big 10

Kornacki: After Year of Study, Morris Prepared for 2016

May 4, 2016

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May 4, 2016

Shane Morris
Shane Morris

By Steve Kornacki

ANN ARBOR, Mich.Shane Morris is focused on winning the starting quarterback job at the University of Michigan. However, as he showed in the spring intrasquad game, wide receiver is another option he brings to the Wolverines.

“Obviously, I’m still trying to be the starting quarterback,” Morris told MGoBlue.com. “Quarterback is my position. But if something happens, and I don’t (start), then I’m going to do anything I can to help the team out.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said open competition will continue into preseason practices at quarterback, where John O’Korn, Wilton Speight and Morris received most of the first-string snaps during spring practices.

“It’s competition, and it’s tough,” said Morris. “You’ve got three really good quarterbacks competing for the job, and it’s kind of crazy. You usually get one or two guys who get a shot, but we’ve got three guys who can play Division I college football competing at the same school.

“It’s going to be a tough decision on the coaches, and it’s going to make us better as quarterbacks. Competition is what makes you the best you can be. So, whoever comes out on top is going to be ready to play.”

Last year, Morris battled Jake Rudock for the job. Rudock won out and threw for 3,017 yards (second-most in school history) and 20 touchdowns. He led the Wolverines to a 10-win season and was drafted in the sixth round by the Detroit Lions.

Morris was redshirted in 2015 to retain two seasons of eligibility, and Speight took the backup snaps, leading Michigan to victory at Minnesota when Rudock was injured in the second half. O’Korn, who started and exceled as a freshman at the University of Houston, is eligible after sitting out last season and running the scout team.

There are two more quality quarterbacks close behind in sophomore Alex Malzone and freshman Brandon Peters — both four-star quarterbacks in high school.

Morris said he made strides last year even without playing.

“Obviously, I wanted to be the quarterback last year,” said Morris, a left-hander. “That was my goal. But I was able to watch Jake and how he prepares and reads (defenses) in games and plays. Being able to watch that helped me a ton. Jake’s a really mature guy and highly intelligent in football. He’s a really good leader and was good with us — teaching us things he learned from starting two years at Iowa.”

Starting receivers Jehu Chesson (missed spring ball with an injury) and Amara Darboh (zero receptions in the spring game) were not factors in the offense for the public intrasquad scrimmage.

“Going in,” said Morris, “we didn’t have a lot of receivers on the team. So, if we needed to, I could help out the team and play some receiver. We had a trick play put in, and they set it up so I ran a route, and the first time I ran a terrible route. The next play I come in, and I throw a double pass, and we got a touchdown.”

It was a flea-flicker play with Morris rolling right and then stopping in his tracks to throw to tailback Drake Johnson in the left side of the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown.

Morris also played quarterback for the Blue team, completing four of nine passes for 31 yards total. However, on the game’s final drive, Morris caught a 25-yard pass from O’Korn.

“In the two-minute drill,” said Morris, “I played receiver the whole time. I was dead (tired) from running routes. I’m not used to running routes like that.”

His big catch put the Blue offense 13 yards from the end zone, and O’Korn ran for a touchdown from six yards out. However, Henry Poggi‘s two-point conversion run for the win failed, and the White had a 14-13 victory.

“It was fun, though,” said Morris. “That catch I made was on a crossing route, and they just left me open. I ran down field trying to do something with the ball, and it had been a long time since I was in the open field like that.”

Devin Gardner, who started ahead of Morris during his first two seasons, threw for 6,336 yards at Michigan. However, Gardner also played wide receiver earlier in his college career with Denard Robinson entrenched at quarterback.

Morris started two games when Gardner was injured, getting the call in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl as a freshman and against Minnesota as a sophomore. He’s completed 43 of 87 passes for 389 yards and has run for 68 yards on 15 carries.

“It was an unbelievable deal to start a bowl game my freshman year,” said Morris, who played in the Under Armour All-America game and was a five-star recruit at Warren (Michigan) De La Salle. “I was so grateful for that, but it was a long time ago. I was an 18-year-old kid under the bright lights.”

Morris is 6-3 and said his weight has gone from 185 pounds as a freshman to 220. He credited strength and conditioning coaches and team nutritionists past and present for the physical gains.

“I’ve put on a lot of muscle,” said Morris. “Our workouts are tough, our runs are tough. We’re being taught how to get rid of fat and put on muscle by the nutritionists.”

Morris said going through consecutive spring practices with the same offense, a pro-style attack, provided his greatest benefit this spring.

“I picked up the most in going through a year of this offense and seeing everything that can happen on a play in my head,” said Morris. “That’s helped me so much, and I wasn’t confused with where to go with the ball. I knew the check-downs. I knew what the protection was and my footwork. Knowing what happens when you do things the right way was huge for me.

“And it was so much easier with an offense you’ve had more than once. I’m a prime example of that. This is my third offense. It makes the game of football so much easier. It’s awesome.”

Bob Thornbladh, a former Wolverine running back, assistant coach and radio analyst, told Morris on the day Harbaugh was hired that it would be one of the best things that ever happened to Morris.

“Him coming to Michigan is huge for us,” Morris said. “He’s an awfully good coach who wins wherever he’s been, and you heard about how good he was and how tough he was on players. Going through it for a year, and now having a second spring ball with him, you can see why he wins.

“He’s a great coach who knows the offense, knows the defense and does things you don’t see other people doing. He spends late hours here and really takes the time to get to know every player. He pushes us to be the best we can, and we work hard, but it’s for a reason.”

Harbaugh is hands-on with every position group during practices.

“He’s very interactive,” said Morris. “I’m sure you don’t see a lot of coaches going through how to take a snap with quarterbacks in practices. He’s throwing, taking drops and showing us how to read it out (on receiver progressions). He was a quarterback in the NFL and almost won a Heisman Trophy here. He’s been here, done that and knows what we’re going through.”

Jedd Fisch, the passing game coordinator who coaches quarterbacks and receivers, also has impacted Morris. His background as an NFL offensive coordinator has served the Wolverines well.

“Coach Fisch is who we spend most of our time with,” said Morris. “He has a huge influence on us learning the playbook and getting to know the players. He does a great job when we study film with him. He shows us cut-ups of the guys in the NFL and just knows how these guys have prepared and gives us a first-hand idea of what it takes. He’s intelligent on football and everything in life. He does mental math better than anyone I’ve ever seen.

“He’s studied with guys like Steve Spurrier, and you can really tell. He’s really energetic. He brings a lot of juice and he really loves it. He loves it, and that helps us.”

Morris is soaking it all up, pointing toward a new season and another opportunity to win the starting job.

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