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Published: Thursday, 7/14/2005

Wolverines' QB job open to competition

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Chad Henne may be the first freshman to lead a team to a Big Ten title, but job security can be extremely precarious if your occupation is quarterback at the University of Michigan.

Henne burst onto the national college football scene when he was thrust into the Wolverines' starting quarterback position after junior Matt Gutierrez injured his shoulder just days before the 2004 opener. The Pennsylvania product responded by throwing for 2,743 yards (third-most in school history) and a school-

record-tying 25 touchdowns.

Yet despite those amazing stats, Michigan offensive coordinator Terry Malone said there is an "open competition" and both Henne and Gutierrez will see action at quarterback this season.

Malone, who was in Perrysburg speaking to a group of area high school football players, said there is "very much" a competition at the quarterback position and that the battle will make both players better.

"Early in the season, I'm sure we will see both quarterbacks because you never want to get halfway or three-quarters of the way through the season without guys having experience," Malone said. "As the season progresses we will go with one quarterback."

Gutierrez was named the team's starting quarterback the Monday before the 2004 season opener only to injure his shoulder days later. After months of rehabilitation, Gutierrez surprised many by returning early to spring practice while throwing the ball with authority. He appeared in 12 games in 2003, passing for 153 yards and a touchdown.

Malone said Gutierrez has made a complete recovery and he is throwing the ball better now than he did at this time last year.

"He is very competitive," Malone said. "He is a great leader on our team."

Yet Malone also was quick to acknowledge the unprecedented season Henne put together along with another freshman, running back Mike Hart.

"It was pretty unique to have two guys in such key roles to step up and play the way they did. It was really something special.

Without those guys, we would really have been in trouble offensively last year," Malone said.

He said it was amazing that neither freshman "hit a wall" and both were solid and steady throughout the year.

Hart, the Big Ten freshman of the year, posted the second-highest rushing total by a rookie running back in league history with 1,455 yards. He led the Big Ten with 1,214 yards on 228 carries (151.8 per game) in conference contests.

"Mike Hart earned every carry he got because of his production," Malone said. "We had a group of running backs who had a chance to carry the ball, but none was as productive as Mike."

That should change this year with the addition of freshman Kevin Grady and the emergence of sophomore Max Martin. Grady graduated from high school early and practiced with Michigan in Pasadena last December.

"Hopefully we will spread it out a little more than we did last year," Malone said. "Hart will be joined by a couple of really good players in Max Martin, who has really come on throughout the spring, and Kevin Grady, who is a special talent. Hopefully, that will give us more weapons than having to ride Mike."

Malone is equally excited about having a healthy Steve Breaston back as the team's primary receiver and big-play threat as a punt returner. As a freshman in 2003, Breaston set school records in punt return yards (619) and scored two touchdowns on returns. But he was hampered with various

injuries last season.

"I think he has been on the verge the last couple of years, but injuries have slowed him down," Malone said.

"But he had a great spring practice. He caught the ball very well and made a lot of great plays after the catch. If we can keep him healthy, that makes us a dangerous team."

Breaston, along with veteran receivers Jason Avant and Carl Tabb, will be called upon to replace one of the best wideouts in school history. Braylon Edwards, who set career school records in receptions, yards and touchdowns, has moved on as a No. 1 draft choice of the Cleveland Browns.

"There is no way you can replace Braylon with one guy. But I think we have a group of guys that maybe will make us a bit more unpredictable," Malone said. "You won't know exactly where the ball is going. At a lot of points last year, you knew where the ball was going, you just couldn't stop it."

Overall, Malone said he hopes opponents will not be able to stop his offense's running or passing attack. He said it will be imperative - whether Henne or Gutierrez is running the team - to keep the Wolverines' young defense on the sidelines.

"I really think you have to be balanced to possess the ball. You can't be all pass or all run and be able to possess the ball," Malone said. "A lot of our pass game is to complement our run game to make sure we keep the chains moving. We've been a good time- of-possession team the last three years and hopefully that will continue."

Contact Mark Monroe at:

mmonroe@theblade.com

or 419-724-6110.



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