Overall: Both redshirt junior Nick Sheridan and redshirt junior David Cone return from last year's squad but this position group has received a complete makeover thanks to the arrival of rookies Forcier and Denard Robinson. The two dual-threat quarterbacks provide Michigan its best hope of running the spread offense the way it is meant to be run under head coach Rich Rodriguez.
A year ago, U-M's quarterbacks played as bad as they can play. Sheridan and Steve Threet, who has since transferred to Arizona State, completed only 48.8 percent of their passes – Michigan's worst completion percentage since 1987 (46.5) – while throwing for just 1,718 yards with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Though there will be growing pains for the Wolverines' two young freshmen, no one expects them to struggle as badly as Sheridan and Threet did last year for a number of reasons. The supporting cast is better, which will help, but Forcier's and Robinson's skills simply translate better to the spread than Sheridan's and Threet's.
However, U-M's coaches are not ready to crown a starter just yet. Sheridan may not be the ideal signal-caller but he does possess the ability to move around the pocket and create opportunities with his legs. A bit more experienced now, he should put up a fight in the fall.
"However it shakes out – whoever takes the ball, moves the chains and leads the offense – is the guy that is going to play," quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said.
The Playmaker: Tate Forcier
When Kevin Newsome backed out of his commitment, there was little panic in Ann Arbor because Forcier quickly took his spot as a recruit in the Class of 2009. Many feel that Forcier was the better choice to begin with because he is the more polished product and shows far more upside as a passer than Newsome. In his senior year at Scripps Ranch High School, Forcier completed 63.8 percent of his attempts for 3,424 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Forcier got a head start on his career, enrolling at Michigan early to learn as much of the U-M offense as he could while developing the techniques necessary to operate the spread. Week after week, practice after practice, he impressed, and in the spring game, before 50,000 fans, he completed 11 of 14 attempts for 141 yards and four touchdowns.
That type of production should not be expected of Forcier right away especially when noted he was lining up against the Wolverines' second-team defense and wasn't allowed to get hit. However, Magee, Smith and Rodriguez are confident the rookie can be an offensive asset immediately and might even be able to deliver a few knockout performances in 2009.
The Breakout Performer: Nick Sheridan
Sheridan connected on 63 of 137 passes last year (46.0 percent) for 613 yards with two scores and five touchdowns. Those aren't good numbers, but he did show his potential in a victory over Minnesota, completing 60.0 percent of his passes for 203 yards and a score. The coaches feel that Sheridan can surface consistently this fall and vow to give the junior a chance to win the starting job.
If the Maize and Blue do go with the more experienced Sheridan he could realize the promise he showed in glimpses a year ago, becoming the mistake-free leader the offense could use.
The Understudy: David Cone
Cone saw plenty of time at the spring game and proved that in a pinch he could quarterback the Michigan offense.
"What David will do is give us a reliable backup if we need him, a guy that knows and understands the system and knows what we're doing; helps the young guys as well," Smith said.
The Impact Freshman: Denard Robinson
While Forcier might just be the starter, Robinson is intent on carving out his own niche and it's expected he will see close to 10 snaps a game in some sort of role. Robinson is no gimmick quarterback, though – he can throw as well as he can run. The 6-0, 180-pounder out of Deerfield Beach, Fla., threw for 1,872 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2008 and might possess a stronger arm than his classmate.
"He throws the ball well for such an athletic kid," Smith said. "We've just got to tighten him down in his motion because he's got a long delivery sometimes, though it comes out quickly and he throws a tight ball."
The coaches love Robinson's physical skills, though, especially his speed and elusiveness in the open field. He presents a solid change-of-pace option to Forcier with the ability to drop back and hit open receivers if safeties crowd the line of scrimmage.
Brewing Battle: Sheridan vs. Robinson.
It is conceivable that Michigan employs three quarterbacks this fall but it's more likely that two will see regular snaps. Forcier is almost guaranteed to be one of them with Sheridan and Robinson jockeying for the rights to second on the depth chart.