Sunday, March 11, 2007

Spring Football commences March 17th and fans are ready for Ryan Mallett-era to begin

Michigan has had a string of successful quarterbacks (Jim Harbaugh, Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Scott Dreisbach, Brian Griese, Tom Brady, Drew Henson, and John Navarre) that have gone on to play in the NFL. However, few Wolverine QB's have come to Michigan with as much hype and anticipation surrounding their arrival as Ryan Mallett has met with this year. The only quarterbacks in modern Michigan Football history (1969-present) to have endured anything comparable to what Mallett is going through are Rick Leach (1975 from Flint Southwestern H.S.), Drew Henson (1998 from Brighton H.S.), and Chad Henne (2004 from Wilson (Pa.) H.S.). Incidentally, each member of this triumvirate wore the number #7 on his jersey.

Mallett (6' 6 3/4", 235 lbs.) is a five-star prospect from Texarkana (TX) Texas High School. He comes in as the second ranked quarterback in the nation behind only Jimmy Clausen who committed to Notre Dame. Mallett early enrolled at Michigan and has been on campus since January, 2007. As an early enrollee, Mallett is eligible to participate in Spring Football Practice which begins March 17th. Mallett will play his true freshman campaign with an established starter (Chad Henne) ahead of him on the depth chart. He will have a year to work with Quarterbacks Coach Scot Loeffler and to observe Henne before he takes over the reins of the offense in 2008. That does not mean, however, that Mallet will redshirt in 2007. Coach Carr's plans appear to be for Mallett to compete for the backup quarterback spot and see whatever playing time comes his way in 2007.

Gradual development was not a luxury that was afforded to Leach or Henne. Those two share the distinction of being the only Wolverine quarterbacks in history to start the first game of their true freshman seasons. In fact, Leach and Henne were the starters throughout their respective true freshman seasons. (Note: Henne started all 12 games of his true freshman season of 2004; Leach started 11 of 12 games of his true freshman season of 1975 as he did not technically start game #3 versus Baylor although he did play the majority of the game). It was expected when the extraordinarly talented Leach arrived on campus that he in fact would be the starter. Henne's route to the starting job was a little more indirect. Henne arrived (like Mallett) as a five-star high school prospect. Henne was ranked by recruiting guru Tom Lemming as the nation's #7 player and the #3 quarterback. However, Coach Carr was expected to name Matt Gutierrez (So./Fr.) as the starter. When Gutierrez suffered a sore shoulder in the week leading up to the opening game, Coach Carr switched and named Henne the starter. Henne never looked back as he has started 37 consecutive games for the Wolverines.

Henne and Leach each had outstanding true freshman campaigns. Henne guided the Wolverines to a Big 10 Conference co-Championship and a berth in the 2005 Rose Bowl while Leach led the '75 Wolverines to a berth in the Orange Bowl against the eventual National Champion Oklahoma Sooners. Leach went on to an outstanding career that included guiding Michigan to three consectutive victories over Ohio State, three consecutive Big 10 Championships, and three consecutive Rose Bowl trips. He also finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in his senior year of 1978. The last chapter has yet to be written in Henne's saga but he has already led Michigan to a 27-10 record in three years including a Big Ten co-Championship and two Rose Bowl trips.

However, not every highly recruited prep star who played QB at Michigan while wearing #7 had an outstanding career. Drew Henson arrived at Michigan as a heralded two-sport athlete in 1998, the year following Michigan's National Championship season in football. Coming out of high school, Henson was rated the No. 3 player and No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the nation by Prep Football Report. He also was named to the Parade All-American team as quarterback. However, when he arrived as a true freshman, he found Tom Brady (Sr./Jr.) ahead of him on the depth chart. Henson only saw limited action in his initial season as he got into 8 games and was 21/47 for 254 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. Henson remained stuck behind Brady on the depth chart in 1999 as Brady started all 12 games. Henson saw action in 10 of 12 games and completed 47 of 90 passing attempts for 546 yards and 3 touchdowns on the season. It was not until 2000 that Henson would assume the starting job and he missed the first three games of the season due to having surgery on his right foot. Ultimately, Henson played in 9 games (starting eight) and he earned All-Big 10 Conference Honorable Mention honors. On the season, he completed 146 of 237 passes for 2,146 yards and 18 touchdowns. Ultimately, Henson chose not to return to Michigan for his senior season as he opted to sign a contract with the New York Yankees to play baseball instead. In retrospect, the highly regarded Henson never really panned out as a successful quarterback for the Wolverines.

Mallett's story has yet to unfold but it all starts with his first official practice as a Wolverine which will take place on March 17th. The spring "game" on April 14th is open to the public and fans are anxiously awaiting their first opportunity to watch Mallett workout in a Maize and Blue uniform. Coach Carr has seen highly touted prospects both boom and bust during his tenure and thus he knows he has to be careful how he brings Mallett along. With Coach Carr and Coach Loeffler guiding Mallett (and maybe with a little help from the senior Henne), fans can look forward to a bright future with the big Texan as the Wolverines' signal-caller. Go Blue!

*Note: Photo of Ryan Mallett (top) by Evan Lewis/The Texarkana Gazette
*Note 2: Photo of Chad Henne (2nd photo) by David Guralnick/The Detroit News
*Note 3: Photo of Rick Leach on Sports Illustrated cover of 9-6-76 (3rd photo) by Lane Stewart
*Note 4: Photo of Drew Henson (4th photo) by Andy Lyons/Allsport

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