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April 24, 2006

Path to NFL for QBs goes through Michigan

Welcome to the firm of Brady, Griese & Grbac, otherwise known as the new Quarterback U.

Forget about Miami. Ann Arbor, Mich., has become the Ivy League for aspiring NFL quarterbacks.

Brainpower, pressure and competition are some of the ingredients necessary to be a successful professional quarterback, and they're all found at Michigan.

"It's like going to law school," said Scot Loeffler, a former Michigan quarterback and now the Wolverines' quarterbacks coach. "You're going to be asked to do a lot mentally."

Any school that sports a two-time Super Bowl MVP can stake a claim to producing top-notch quarterbacks, but Michigan's track record goes beyond the New England Patriots' Tom Brady.

A Pro Bowl selection in 2000, Brian Griese has started 72 of 75 career games with Denver, Miami and Tampa Bay. He signed with Chicago this offseason.

Todd Collins started 13 games for Buffalo in 1997 before becoming a career backup with Kansas City and now Washington. John Navarre and Drew Henson are also on NFL rosters as backups.

Ex-Michigan quarterbacks Elvis Grbac and Jim Harbaugh, who each appeared in a Pro Bowl, retired after the 2001 season.

And the other Quarterback U?

Miami sent Vinny Testaverde, Bernie Kosar, Jim Kelly, Steve Walsh and Craig Erickson to the NFL during the 1980s and early '90s.

But after Testaverde's retirement this offseason, Ken Dorsey and Brock Berlin are the only former Hurricanes quarterbacks on NFL rosters.

"There is a proven path to the NFL by going to Michigan," Harbaugh now coach at the University of San Diego said. "Sometimes even the backup will become an NFL quarterback. There's a proven quarterback track record there."

By the time Navarre joined the program in 1999, Harbaugh, Grbac and Griese were starting in the NFL and Brady was a year removed from leading Michigan to a Big Ten title.

"You want to go to a school that has done well at your position," Navarre said. "I looked at all of those guys. That was a big influence. They put a lot of quarterbacks in the NFL."

Position: Quarterback
School that rules: Michigan (Tom Brady, Todd Collins, Scott Dreisbach, Elvis Grbac, Brian Griese, Drew Henson, John Navarre).
Coming attractions: Chad Henne.
Runners-up: Boston College (Doug Flutie, Matt Hasselbeck, Tim Hasselbeck, Brian St. Pierre); East Carolina (Jeff Blake, David Garrard); Purdue (Drew Brees, Kyle Orton) Southern Cal (Matt Cassel, Rob Johnson, Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Rodney Peete); Tulane (Shaun King, J.P. Losman, Patrick Ramsey); Washington (Mark Brunell, Chris Chandler, Brock Huard, Cody Pickett, Marques Tuiasosopo); Wherever Jeff Tedford is coaching (Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers at Cal, Joey Harrington, A.J. Feeley, Akili Smith at Oregon and David Carr, Trent Dilfer and Billy Volek at Fresno State).
Sleeper schools: Marshall. The Thundering Herd has been in Division I-A just nine years, but placed two starting quarterbacks in the NFL. The Jets' Chad Pennington was the 18th overall draft pick in 2000, and the Jaguars' Byron Leftwich was the seventh overall pick in 2003. When healthy, both have become dependable options. The problem is keeping them on the field. Pennington has played only 26 games the last three seasons. Leftwich missed six games due to injury in 2005.
Why Michigan is Quarterback U: This UM knocked the other one off the perch of Quarterback U. Why? Miami's last three quarterbacks to play in the NFL are Ken Dorsey, Scott Covington and Gino Torretta. Not very inspiring. The Wolverines, on the other hand, produced three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, Pro Bowlers Brian Griese and Elvis Grbac, who retired in 2001, and backups John Navarre, Drew Henson and Todd Collins. All but one Wolverines starter since Grbac in 1989 has started a game in the NFL. Jim Harbaugh, the most decorated Michigan quarterback while in college, misses this list after taking his last NFL snap in 2000 before retiring in 2001.
Michigan's quarterback tradition started at the end of the Bo Schembechler era in 1990 when the Wolverines put aside the run-first, option attack for a pro-style offense.

The result: Nearly every quarterback one-ups the previous signal-caller.

It took 92 years of Michigan football for quarterback Steve Smith to become the first Wolverine to crack 600 career passes in 1983. Since then, five Wolverines topped 700 attempts. Navarre, the starter from 2001-03, holds the record with 1,366. Henne is on pace to pass him with 781 attempts in two seasons as a starter.

"What's amazing is that every single year, the record book is re-written," Loeffler said. "The bar is set so high that the next guy has to live up to that. That player has to rewrite the record book. That's why they succeed."

That's also why the Michigan quarterback plays one of the highest-pressure positions in college sports.

Despite setting several Michigan single-season and career passing records, Navarre drew the ire of fans until he led the Wolverines to a Big Ten title in 2003.

"Michigan's quarterback is one of the highest scrutinized positions in the state," Navarre said. "If you can't perform, you can't play there."

In the NFL, the ex-Wolverines have been no stranger to similar pressure. Brady was thrust into starting duty and led the Patriots to the first of his three Super Bowl titles when Drew Bledsoe was injured in 2001. Griese and Collins each followed Hall of Famers in their first season as starters.

"It's been a trend that they compete like heck," said Loeffler, who was the backup to Collins in 1995. "There are not very many places where the pressure and expectations are that high."

While shotgun formations and spread options have become the trend in college football, the Michigan offense has kept the quarterback under center and aims for a 50-50 split between running and passing.

Since 1998 when Brady was the starter, Michigan has passed the ball 45.3 percent of the time.

"We have played a pro-style offense for a long time here," said Mike DeBord, who began his second stint as Michigan's offensive coordinator this spring. "We have a healthy balance of run and pass, and quarterbacks are forced to learn all the fundamentals and subtleties of dropping back. That puts them ahead of the game when they get to the NFL."

It hasn't translated to draft-day success yet. Collins, taken by the Bills in the second round in 1995, was the highest draft pick since Harbaugh. The Chicago Bears took Harbaugh with the 26th pick in the first round in 1987.

Griese was a third-round pick. Brady was a sixth-round pick. Henson, who played two seasons of professional baseball, also went in the sixth round.

As far as future Michigan quarterbacks in the draft, Loeffler knows the next one will be a safe pick.

"History has proven that they have a great track record," Loeffler said. "One thing you know is that they are going to be fundamentally sound, know the game inside and out and will be able to handle pressure."

Position U.
Interior O-Line
Boston College
Def. End
Tight End
Ohio State
Def. Tackle
Wide Receiver
Ohio State
Southern Cal
Off. Tackle
Running Back
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