June 18, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Nothing about Jim Harbaugh’s methods these days are conventional.
A head coach who prides himself with outside the box thinking, just about everything Harbaugh does at Michigan is a bit different.
And that includes his annual quarterback camp.
Harbaugh and Michigan quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch hosted more than 200 passers at their annual “Aerial Assault” camp Saturday in Ann Arbor. And while the players went through traditional passing drills, they also went through workouts from other sports as well.
Harbaugh had quarterbacks play soccer and run baseball drills. They also played a little dodgeball.
The inspiration for all of this?
One of the best offensive minds football’s ever seen.
“It’s in the name of Bill Walsh,” Harbaugh said Saturday. “I spent time with Bill Walsh, before he passed away, during my first year at Stanford. And I asked him one day ‘what do you look for in a quarterback?’ And he said ‘athletic instincts.’ “
According to Walsh, the best quarterback prospects are the players who are the best at everything they do athletically.
The three-time Super Bowl-winning coach said he preferred his quarterbacks to be players who excelled in all sports. He wanted to see how they performed on a baseball diamond or a basketball court. Any player who was willing to insert himself into as many athletic competitions as he could was, in Walsh’s mind, more likely to succeed at football’s most demanding position.
For Harbaugh, this has always been high on the priority list.
Current Michigan true freshman Brandon Peters was a high-level basketball player at Avon High School in Indiana before he gave that up to concentrate on football. Five-star commit Dylan McCaffrey — who was in town for Saturday’s camp — had scholarship offers to play basketball in college.
“I asked (Walsh) what he meant by that and he said ‘it means he’s the best athlete in the entire high school. He could go make the basketball team, at least be the sixth man, he could make the soccer team, he can swim, he can field balls from center field, he can be a shortstop and could probably pitch on the baseball team,’ ” Harbaugh said. “Even if (it’s a player who doesn’t play the sport), he’s a good enough athlete to make any team. That’s always resonated with me. You want them to pick some of that up here in this camp, to see how they operate in taking athletic reps — whatever they are.
“There are some youngsters who aren’t playing multiple sports as much as they used to so you don’t get to see that as much. So you like to test it. And I think it’s fun for the fellas to just know, there’s a lot of athletic reps that you can take. You can climb a tree and that’s about as good an athletic rep as you can get in terms of balance and strength and core and planning out what your next move it.”
Harbaugh also had multiple guest speakers speak to the players at the camp, including Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard, Michigan basketball coach John Beilein and Buffalo Bills president Russ Brandon.
The speeches mainly centered around leadership, something that’s demanded by any team’s quarterback.
Beilein — who runs what he calls his “quarterback club” for his point guards every season — spoke a great deal about how effective former Michigan star Trey Burke was as the quarterback of his offense.
In Harbaugh’s mind, the quarterback’s the heart of everything. He should be able to shoulder the biggest load, speak with the strongest voice and embrace any competition that comes his way.
“They can see, anybody can tell, right? I mean, there’s a guy who can field the ball or catching a fly ball, showing spatial awareness of where he is. Or a guy picking up a grounder or making a throw, you can tell — anybody can look and see ‘that was good, that was better, that was best,’ ” Harbaugh said. “I think it opens their thinking a little bit. Playing the quarterback position isn’t just a five-step drop, a three-step drop, a seven-step drop, the grip and mechanics of throwing.
“There’s a lot that goes into playing that position that really dictates that you be a tremendous athlete.”