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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — While Mike Macdonald was the first new Michigan coach to come aboard after having spent the better part of a decade with the Baltimore Ravens, he wasn’t the only one.
When linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary bolted for Tennessee on the eve of spring ball, instead of bringing in another coach at that position, Jim Harbaugh went out and got who he thought was the best he could get at any position — and that’s rising coach Matt Weiss.
Weiss coached the running backs last with the Ravens but also had been a quarterbacks coach — the latter being his job in Ann Arbor. On Wednesday, Weiss spoke about his position group, including what Cade McNamara did to earn the starting job, what he’s seen from Alan Bowman and J.J. McCarthy, his analytics background, his philosophy on quarterback runs, and much more.
Here’s everything he had to say at his first media availability for the Wolverines.
“Hey guys. Excited to be up here. Excited for game week. Had a couple good days practice. Take any questions.”
What he’s seen from Cade McNamara
“Cade’s done a great job. Obviously, he’s our starter. Looking forward to seeing what he can do in a game. It’s been a long process building up to this. Obviously, still a work in progress. We’ll be better in Week 3 than we are in Week 1. Be better (later) than we are in Week 3. But looking forward to seeing what he can do on the field.”
Keys to getting off to a good start
“I don’t think there’s any secret to it. He’s gotta do what he’s been doing all spring and all fall – go through his progressions, be true to the reads. He doesn’t have to go out and win the game for us, he just has to go out and do his job. That’s been the focus when we talk to those guys and that’s what we expect him to do on Saturday at 12 o’clock.”
How did he separate himself in the spring?
“Cade is really impressive in his ability to make decisions, to see things, do the right thing. He has experience in the offense, he’s played in games before. All those things are impressive and we feel like we can win with him. Yeah, we’re excited for him.”
First impressions of McNamara
“First impressions I would say that he really wants to be good which goes a long way. He works hard. I think he has the respect of his teammates because they pick up on that, too. Like I said, he picks up on things well, he makes good decisions. He’s somebody that maybe people are always gonna question or doubt in terms of he’s not enough of this or he’s not enough of that. But ultimately, when you watch him play, he gets the job done and he’s a guy that has a bright future.”
Why did he say he looks like a future NFL quarterback?
“I said he’s the type of guy that will surprise people and end up playing beyond college football. Exactly what I’m talking about – the ability to read things, the ability to see things, make good decisions, understanding of the game, his approach. All those things, like you said, is like a veteran-type of player.”
Was it obvious how much work he put in?
“Cade put in a lot of work and he also did a great job with all the player-led things in the summer of organizing that and having a leadership role. And helping our team get better. You want a quarterback to have a collective effect to make everyone around him better. We want our quarterbacks in the room to make each other better, too. Good quarterbacks do that I think Cade is starting to show that he can, too.”
J.J. McCarthy’s progress
“Like any player, the younger they are the faster they’ll grow because there’s diminishing returns, obviously. He’s came in, he’s 18 years old. Hasn’t played college football. He’s made huge strides. Every day he gets better. It’s a guy with a ton of talent and certainly a guy we’re looking to develop and we’re really excited about. He’s done a great job. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. And more. We’re excited about J.J., too.”
On Baltimore Ravens coaches coming to Michigan
“When you come here, right from the jump, you see a lot of similarities, just because of the culture with Coach Harbaugh and his brother. They’re much more similar than they are different. It’s kind of makes the transition a little bit easier – what a head coach expects and what his vision is. Those are very similar. Those are definitely parallels and similarities. I think anybody that – whether it’s a player or a coach, if you went between the two programs, you’d be very comfortable doing that.”
Who have been his mentors
“Obviously Coach Harbaugh – I got my start as a graduate assistant under him, so he’s had a huge impact on me. His brother – I spent 12 years – was even his assistant when I first got to Baltimore, so he’s had a huge impact on me. The neat thing about the NFL, too, is players really teach you a lot. There’s guys who are veteran players who really know their position better than a lot of coaches, in terms of – they’re not coaches, but in terms of the scheme, but with technique, you can learn the position from players. I think of guys like Ed Reed -- being in the DB room with him when I was young. Even just the last two years, being with Mark Ingram. He’s a guy I learned a ton from, especially about leadership and getting a great position room and making everyone better and rising everybody up. There’s so many guys over the years, I don’t want to leave anybody out, but those would be a few.”
Anything he wanted to bring from Baltimore?
“I don’t think I came here with the intention of bringing any one thing. I just want to contribute any way I can. Certainly, some of those things I’ve naturally been exposed to and have been able to help out with. I’m just trying to contribute anything I can to help the team and try to win some games.”
His experience with analytics in Baltimore
“In Baltimore, I was there so long, it was kinda before all that stuff was in football – kinda watched it grow and had a front row seat for it. Certainly trying to help grow that here. We have some students that are undergraduate students that are helping us with various things. But it’s gonna take a long time to get that to where we want to grow it. Just like everything else, just trying to get better a little, one day at a time.”
Helping with the run game
“I’m really focused on coaching the quarterbacks, that’s a pretty big job. Like I said, I’ll contribute any way that I can and try to help where I can. I think the run game is in great hands with Coach Gattis and Coach Moore, too – two phenomenal coaches. Certainly, I’ll contribute ideas as much as I can and help them. And I’ve been doing that. For sure, they have the lead on that.”
What he’s seen from the wide receivers
“Yeah, I think we have some talented guys at receiver. C.J., AJ, Roman, Mikey, Ronnie – certainly Ronnie – a bunch of guys. For a quarterback, we have a bunch of great options to throw the ball to. The tight ends, too – running backs. Certainly not any lack of weapons for us. That’s a good thing.”
Is there a guy in that group you tell QBs to throw it up to?
“No, we try to be true to our read, go through progressions. We’re not just throwing the ball up to anybody. I wish we had a guy like that – that’d be awesome! Just throw the ball up!”
How he’s seen Alan Bowman progress
“Yeah, Alan’s been a really valuable addition. He has experience. You get the sense from him that you’d be able to put him in a game and he’d be able to operate no problem. He’s not gonna make any mistakes from a lack of experience standpoint. He also has a ton of knowledge that comes from experience, which has been able to help our other guys – other quarterbacks, and talk to them. Been a really valuable addition. I like his approach a lot.”
Cade ending last year with injury
“Part of the quarterback’s job is to get us out of bad situations. Certainly with Western Michigan, that’s a huge challenge for us this week because they’re a disruptive defense. I think they’re tops in the country, or at the top in the country in TFL per play, sacks per play. They wreak havoc. And that creates opportunity when you’re able to handle it, but there’s also gonna be times in that game where there’s gonna be havoc, because that’s what they do. Certainly, we talk to quarterbacks all the time about protecting themselves, making smart decisions, don’t make a bad play worse, know when to get down or throw the ball away. But we’re not talking to him about trying to avoid injury or anything like that. That’s gonna take care of itself with his play.”
Establishing the run, the QB role
“Everything that we do on offense goes through the quarterback. We’re always making the right check, getting us into the right play or – anything that we’re doing goes through the quarterback that way. Absolutely.”
How hands-on Jim Harbaugh is in the QB room
"He’s definitely hands-on, which is awesome for me because I feel like we complement each other really well in terms of he has a wealth of experience – obviously, as a head coach, as a player. From the player perspective, he has the ability to relate to them in a way that I can’t, right? Because I wasn’t a first-round draft pick, I didn’t play 14 years in the NFL, didn’t start here at Michigan. All those ways he can speak from that perspective and relate to them, he’s really valued. He’s a great coach. Love having him do that.”
Value of a mobile quarterback
“I think Cade has the ability to move out of the pocket when he needs to and to make plays. Certainly, we’re not gonna design many plays with the intent of him running the ball. But when he needs to run the ball, he can run the ball and be an effective runner, absolutely.”
Working with pro-style quarterbacks after Baltimore
“It’s really two different offenses, which is great for me because I’ve been able to learn a ton here that I hadn’t been exposed to. My growth here coming as a coach has been an awesome opportunity to learn not only about college football, but a lot of schemes that are better here than they were there. Two different systems, for sure.”
Story behind the ‘Chase the Lion’ shirt
“This shirt, ‘chase the lion,’ is from the Bible. Benaiah killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day. Just kind of the spirit that it represents. A guy killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day with his bare hands. Maybe it is relevant to what we need to do this year, you know? I looked at the top 25, we’re not in it. Let’s go kill a lion in a pit on a snowy day with our bare hands. We’ve got a lot to prove. We’ll find out Saturday at 12 o’clock. Won’t be long.”