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The moment Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh concluded his answer to a question about whether Cade McNamara had won the starting quarterback job, an inquiry about true freshman J.J. McCarthy immediately followed.
“Do you plan to play J.J. as well?” a reporter asked during Harbaugh’s first Monday press conference of the new season.
“Well, I mean all options will be open,” Harbaugh said. “All options will be open about playing J.J. or anybody else on our roster.”
Because Michigan held the entirety of spring practice and fall camp behind closed doors, the public was left wondering what exactly McNamara had done to separate himself from McCarthy, the former five-star recruit, and to a lesser extent Alan Bowman, the transfer from Texas Tech who had 5,260 yards and 33 touchdowns in three seasons with the Red Raiders.
The answers heard from Harbaugh on Monday all centered around consistency, work ethic and being an exceptional teammate.
True as those responses may have been, they likely failed to satiate fans interest always hovers over the next big thing. In this case, they hope McCarthy fits the bill given his collage of scholarship offers from the likes of Louisiana State, Ohio State, Texas and Miami, among others. But Harbaugh confirmed what many people expected: McCarthy must wait his turn behind McNamara — at least for the immediate future.
“I didn’t doubt (my ability to win the job),” McNamara said. “But J.J. is a great player. He’s been practicing well, too. I think competition in the quarterback room is always good. It keeps the guys pushing, really. He’s a good player and a good guy, too.”
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The quarterback room is overseen by the newly hired Matt Weiss, who arrived in Ann Arbor after filling a variety of roles for the Baltimore Ravens since joining the organization in 2009. Weiss, who also led the analytics department for Ravens’ coaches, replaced former quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels.
“Coach Weiss is a different personality than Coach McDaniels was, and both are two great coaches,” McNamara said. “I think the addition of Coach Weiss has been nothing but great for our QB room and to this offense, really. Him showing his NFL perspective has helped us outside of just the quarterback room.
“He’s given me a new perspective on quarterback. I think him not being a quarterback coach right before he came here helps us get a new perspective on the offense and how our simple footwork can affect the running backs. And that’s something that — that level of detail wasn’t taken last year.”
Perhaps it’s those little details that have separated McNamara, an upperclassman who has been on campus since 2019, from McCarthy, who is still adjusting to the technical and schematic demands of college football.
If the coaches truly believe McCarthy is the future, they will find a way to get him some playing time this season.
“He’s just a ball player, you know?” wide receiver Mike Sainristil said of McCarthy. “He’s great at extended plays. He has a great arm. He works hard in the weight room, works hard on the field. Sometimes you’ll see him come in (to the facility) first, (and then) he’ll leave last after practices. He’ll be here until 9 or 10 o’clock just throwing, working on his game.”
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: What Michigan football QBs J.J. McCarthy, Cade McNamara have shown