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Big Ten Media Days Recap - Part II: Michigan’s Offense

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New offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is already making an impact in Ann Arbor. But will he have carte blanche to run Michigan’s offense?

NCAA Football: Michigan Spring Game

At the Big Ten Media Days earlier this month, Michigan’s representatives couldn’t escape questions about Ohio State and the stranglehold the Buckeyes have on the Wolverines. But as prevalent as that line of questioning was, there was another line of questioning that was asked with even more frequency.

Will Jim Harbaugh be able to keep his hands off the offense and cede complete control to new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis?

Michigan is introducing a new offensive coordinator this year, former Alabama co-offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. This is hardly news, as Gattis was hired shortly after last season ended. What the collected media wanted to know was, would Gattis have complete control of the offense or would Harbaugh still have a strong influence on play calling?

Of the Michigan players in attendance, two were defenders (Khaleke Hudson and Jordan Glasgow). That left offensive lineman and returning captain Ben Bredesen to speak on behalf of the offense. And speak, he did. At length. A skeptical press just couldn’t seem to accept that Harbaugh would be turning over the reins to Gattis, and relentlessly queried Bredesen (and to a lesser degree, Harbaugh) about both the offense and Gattis’s role.

Bredesen admitted that he was initially hesitant about the new offense. “As an offensive lineman, I was skeptical at first,” Bredesen said. It didn’t take long for Bredesen to get on board with Gattis’ scheme, however. “I’ve fallen fully into this (Gattis’ offense),” Bredesen said. “I love Coach Gattis’ offense. I love the way it works. I love the way you can get the playmakers the ball on any given play, no matter what’s called.”

That’s because the “Pro Spread,” as many call the offense that Gattis is expected to run, is an RPO-heavy (Run/Pass Option) offense that allows the quarterback to make pre and post snap reads, giving him the freedom to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers wherever he sees favorable match-ups. Bredesen, for one, is a believer. “The personnel we have,” Bredesen said, “fits the offense perfectly.”

Installing a completely new offense is no small task, however, and there will surely be growing pains. But Bredesen said the Wolverines are already growing more and more accustomed to the new scheme. “He (Gattis) has made a huge difference for us. We’ve really made a lot of improvements throughout the spring and over the summer,” Bredesen said.

But will Gattis really have full control? That’s been the case through spring ball, Bredesen, Hudson and Glasgow all agreed, but not everyone was convinced. And it wasn’t just Michigan players who were asked. Fox Sports’ Joel Klatt also weighed in.

Klatt first acknowledged that the change in offensive philosophy was needed. Klatt called last year’s Michigan/Ohio State game, and he remembers turning to broadcast partner Gus Johnson during the game and remarking that with Michigan’s offense, the Wolverines just didn’t have the ability to come back. He remembered thinking, “They’ve (Michigan) got to get to a point they can come back in football games.” So Klatt is on board with the change in offense. But can Harbaugh “keep his paws off the offense,” as Klatt put it? Klatt wasn’t sure.

Klatt noted, that in Harbaugh’s defense, until now he’s never had to do something different. Throughout his coaching career at Stanford, in the NFL with the Niners and in the early years with Michigan, things seemed to work. But now that he’s topped out with his system, Klatt wonders if Harbaugh will be able to cede control. He even said he’s asked people around the NCAA and NFL the same question, and no one seems to know.

When reminded that Harbaugh has reportedly been hands-off throughout spring ball, Klatt laughed, looked at his watch and responded, “Yeah, in April. Will he do the same in November against Michigan State or Ohio State?” For many, seeing will be believing.