QB Battle takes center stage in Michigan spring game

Posted at 11:08 PM, Apr 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-01 23:08:42-04

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Jim Harbaugh kicked off spring practice in Florida under the sun and wrapped it up at the Big House under the lights.

Away from the glare, Michigan's envelope-pushing coach will have months to decide who will be under center for the first snap that counts on Sept. 3 against Hawaii in the season opener.

Harbaugh's choices include Houston transfer John O'Korn, relatively experienced Shane Morris and Wilton Speight, who threw a game-winning touchdown pass late in a game last year at Minnesota in relief of injured starter Jake Rudock.

O'Korn threw 34 TD passes over two seasons at Houston before leaving to sit out at Michigan last year. Morris started two games and played in 10 for former coach Brady Hoke, then redshirted under Harbaugh. Speight played in six games as a backup last season as a sophomore.

Whoever ends up winning the job will be able to lean on three talented seniors: tight end Jake Butt and receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh.

Butt, Darboh and Chesson each had at least 50 receptions and 500 yards receiving, becoming the first trio to pull off that feat in the same season for the Wolverines.

The 6-foot-6 Butt caught 51 passes, two shy of Bennie Joppru's single-season record for a Michigan tight end, and his 654 yards receiving ranked third in school history for players at his position. He was a second-team All-American and Big Ten tight end of the year.

Butt expects to do even more next season.

"I truly believe I'm the best tight end in the country," he said entering Friday's spring finale.

Chesson, an All-Big Ten receiver and team MVP, led last year's team with 764 yards receiving and nine receiving TDs.

The speedy receiver has been slowed this spring, held out of practices to rest what he described as a sore right knee that he said didn't need to be surgically repaired during the offseason. When the team had an open practice at Ford Field last month, a brace protected Chesson's right knee while he worked on his upper-body strength on the sideline.

"It was my decision to shut it down for the spring, but I'll be ready to go this summer," Chesson said at Schembechler Hall. "I don't see anything slowing me down, but it's a mental thing I'll have to get over."

Darboh had a team-high 58 catches for 727 yards and five TDs. He complements Chesson's speed with brute strength and soft hands.

"When he catches a pass, it makes a perfect sound," Butt said. "That's probably because he's got some weird muscles in his hands. We've got a dumbbell that weighs about 200 pounds. If you can lift it, which only six or seven linemen have, you get your name on a wooden box. One day, Darboh picked up and looked around like it was nothing."

Harbaugh created waves in the offseason by touring the South, holding camps for prospects and spending the night at recruits' houses. He turned signing day into a spectacle with stars such as Tom Brady and Derek Jeter in attendance. Instead of giving his players the week off for spring break, he took them to Florida to practice. And instead of wrapping up spring drills on a relatively sleepy Saturday, as the school has done in the past, he chose to do it on a Friday evening.

The Wolverines shrugged at the fuss over Harbaugh's outside-the-box ideas.

"He keeps finding ways to separate from the competition by being innovative," Chesson said.