June 20, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Most outside observers didn’t anticipate much of a competition at quarterback for Michigan this offseason.
John O’Korn was handpicked by Jim Harbaugh and Jedd Fisch shortly after signing day in 2015 to be — at least what most people believed anyway — the team’s successor to graduate transfer Jake Rudock.
A talented 6-foot-4, 209-pounder with a big arm and quick feet, O’Korn chose Michigan to rebuild his college career after losing his job at Houston in 2014. That process started this March with spring ball.
But by the end of 15 practices, the Houston transfer wasn’t way out in front of his main competitors — Wilton Speight and Shane Morris. If anything, he wrapped up slightly behind Speight. Meaning this offseason might be the biggest and most important stretch of his football life.
Which is why he says he’s doing as much as he possibly can to be ready for the start of fall camp on Aug. 8.
“You certainly can’t fake the amount of work you put in during the offseason,” O’Korn said this weekend. “I’d echo that, (Harbaugh will) find out and we’ll all find out. We’ve all been here together, but you’ll find out Aug. 8 who put in the extra work and who was here at 6 a.m. and who was here the latest. Who grabbed a guy in the middle of the afternoon when they had a few hours to get some extra work in.
“I think that’ll all be very evident.”
For O’Korn — like all of Michigan’s quarterbacks — this spring had its ups and downs.
He flashed moments of excellence both with his arm and his legs. In the spring game, he showed an ability to escape the pocket to create yards with his feet and he nearly brought his team back for a victory on the final drive of the game.
But he also struggled a bit with accuarcy and turnovers.
O’Korn says the biggest hiccup for him was rust. He hadn’t taken any serious reps — outside of scout team snaps — since the fall of 2014. So physically being on the field and in charge of an offense again was something he needed time adjusting to.
“My biggest thing is (still) reps, most of last year I spent running the scout team,” “And in spring, you can only run so many plays. There’s still a lot of things where I need to get reps on,” he said. “I went back and watched all the film from spring and saw all the reps I had on each play. The ones I didn’t get a lot on, those are the ones I’ve been focusing on (this summer).”
Speight has talked about how much more comfortable he is with the offense at this point in his career, especially since 2016 will mark the first time during his run at Michigan where the team has had the same offense in back-to-back years.
O’Korn says he’s had no problems grasping the offensive concepts Harbaugh puts together. But there’s a difference between knowing a play and actually getting something done on the field.
That’s the hurdle he’s still trying to jump over.
“I wouldn’t say (I had to) catch up, but it was just on-field work,” he said. “Any quarterback will tell you that there’s a big difference between knowing an offense and being able to run and execute an offense. That’s what I really worked on in spring, that part of it.
“Jake and I lived together last year so we were constantly quizzing each other on the offense and talking about the offense and talking about the game plan. So I knew it going into spring, but it’s a bit of a transition when you go onto the field and sort of run the show.”
Like Speight and Morris, O’Korn is heavily involved in the team’s player-led offseason drills and 7 on 7 workouts.
Michigan still hasn’t been able to get much of anything from senior receiver Jehu Chesson this offseason — he’s still not been cleared to run after an offseason knee procedure, but is expected to be ready for fall camp.
But O’Korn says his time with the rest of the wideouts and tight ends has been productive. Attendance has been strong and all the quarterbacks know the situation they’re in.
Harbaugh called it a “race” on Saturday, saying he’s not going to interfere much with the quarterbacks over the summer. They know they’ve had the months of May, June and July to get themselves better.
And come Aug 8., everyone will start to find out who made the most of that time.
“We’ve had six weeks of discretionary workouts where guys didn’t have to be here, but we grade attendance and it’s something where you want to see everybody here (and it’s been good),” O’Korn said. “I’ve been spending a lot of time with the guys trying to develop as a leader, working on mechanics and timing with the receivers.”
“(Fisch and the quarterbacks) are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other and he’s asking us questions and making sure we’re keeping up with our film study and our on the field work. It’s a bit of a challenge with (the coaches) all over the place but they find the time to reach out to us and make sure we’re working and doing everything we need to do.”