Jeff Seidel: Michigan coach Harbaugh puts QBs through strange drills at camp

American Football with the Forty Beyond
American Football with the Forty Beyond

A baseball shot out of the Jugs machine and flew through the air in Michigan Stadium.

Seriously. A baseball.

And this was a quarterback camp.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh stood on the field, watching a quarterback try to catch the baseball, and it looked awkward and ugly. The young quarterback picked up the ball and tried to do a crow hop, like an outfielder, throwing the baseball to Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler, the cut-off man, who stood in the middle of the field.

Harbaugh screamed out a score, which was displayed up on the stadium scoreboard.

Of course. Everything is a competition with Harbaugh.

Up in the stands, several parents looked confused and dumbfounded. What in the world was Harbaugh doing? Was he looking for accuracy? What?

Harbaugh put the young quarterbacks through a series of strange competitions Saturday, at least, for U-M’s “Aerial Assault” quarterback camp. The quarterbacks kicked field goals and fielded ground balls _ Harbaugh played first base, catching the throws; and there was talk that they were going to play dodgeball and soccer a little while later.

Yes, it was strange.

Yes, it was unusual.

But there was a method to Harbaugh’s madness _ and the idea came from former NFL coach Bill Walsh.

“I asked him, ‘How do you find a quarterback?’ ” Harbaugh said. “He said he looks for athletic talent, as one of the top three things. He said, ‘They are the best athlete at their high school. They can catch a fly ball. They could go be on the track team. They can play soccer. They could be the sixth man on the basketball team, even if it’s not their main sport.’ “

So Harbaugh was trying to discover the athletes on Saturday.

And you know what?

It worked.

As the quarterbacks went through the drills, it was surprising how many looked so ordinary. Many looked like they had never caught a baseball, much less thrown one. Several had horrible form.

And that’s exactly what Harbaugh was trying to learn.

There is more to football than a perfect, mechanical, seven-step drop. Playing quarterback demands athleticism and creativity. The baseball drills exposed who was an athlete versus a robot created by a quarterback guru.

“It’s an athletic rep,” Harbaugh said, of catching a baseball. “Field awareness. Spatial awareness. Hand-eye coordination. Throwing is throwing, whether its baseball, football, basketball, a rock. It’s the mechanics of throwing.”

The stunning part was so many of the quarterbacks at this camp didn’t look athletic when Harbaugh gave them a baseball glove. “You can see it, can’t you?” Harbaugh said.

In an age when so many athletes specialize in one sport, Harbaugh is trying to find multi-sport athletes who can do it all. “You can take athletic reps doing just about everything, even climbing a tree,” Harbaugh said. “Climbing a tree would be balance.”

One of the young quarterbacks who looked athletic and scored high in a variety of tests was Jack Coan, who is in the 2017 class. Coan is a four-star quarterback from Long Island, N.Y., and Michigan has already offered him a scholarship.

Up in the stands, Coan’s high school coach was getting text messages.

“Everybody was asking, ‘How is he doing?’ ” said Robb Hoss, who coaches Coan at Sayville High School.

“He’s doing well, I guess, in what? I don’t know,” Hoss continued. “But yes, he’s doing well. It’s kind of strange. He’s shagging fly balls and ground balls. But he’s holding his own.”

Coan set Long Island records last season with 40 touchdowns and 3,431 yards passing.

“I believe Jack is the only quarterback that they have offered, from his class, who is here,” Hoss said.

Originally, Coan committed to Notre Dame to play lacrosse. But he has de-committed and wants to play college football now.

Which sounds like the exact type of athlete that Harbaugh is looking for.

This article was written by By Jeff Seidel from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.