7 takeaways from Jim Harbaugh presser: Michigan football’s QB battle, Eyabi Anoma, new depth chart

Harbaugh provides more details about defensive starters

Jim Harbaugh at a press conference on Aug. 29, 2022. (WDIV)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Jim Harbaugh spoke Monday ahead of the Michigan football season opener, addressing the quarterback battle, the addition of Eyabi Anoma, the team’s depth chart, and more.

Here are seven highlights from Monday’s press conference.

Cade McNamara vs. J.J. McCarthy

Predictably, the hottest topic at Harbaugh’s briefing was the ongoing quarterback battle between McNamara and McCarthy.

Click here to read my full thoughts on this topic.

Harbaugh announced over the weekend that McNamara will start the opener against Colorado State and McCarthy will start the second game against Hawaii.

“It’s a process,” Harbaugh said. “It is a process. It’s biblical: ‘No person knows what the future holds,’ and it’s a process that’ll be based on performance, but we don’t -- we’re not going to withhold any good thing. Both have been tremendous quarterbacks.”

He dismissed the old notion that a team with two quarterbacks actually has none. He said Michigan is in a great situation with two options.

“We think that both are capable of leading our team to a championship, so that’s good,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to keep cultivating that.

“I can’t see it (any way) other than a good thing. They’re actually both playing their best football since they’ve been here. Cade is arguably one of the most improved players on the team, and he’s playing his best football. J.J. did not have spring practice, but he’s ascended to where he’s at based on his performance. That’s a really, really good thing.”

McNamara was the undisputed starter in 2021, when Michigan went 12-2 with a Big Ten championship and a College Football Playoff appearance.

Even though he’s no longer alone atop the depth chart, McNamara hasn’t been demoted, Harbaugh insists.

“There’s no demotion for Cade McNamara,” Harbaugh said. “He’s playing his best football. It is a promotion for J.J. based on what he’s been able to do, as well.”

He anticipates playing both quarterbacks in the opener. That’s no surprise, considering McCarthy played in 11 of 14 games even as a true freshman backup.

After the first two games, what happens next will be decided based solely on performance. But playing both quarterbacks deeper into the season remains an option.

“Absolutely a possibility,” Harbaugh said.

“If it’s exactly as it is right now, today, coming just out of practice, and it continues to be like that in the games, then that’ll be up to us as coaches to be able to utilize both players, what they bring to our football team, for the best of the football team. That’s where it stands today.”

Harbaugh was asked whether the possibility of either player transferring played into how he decided to handle this situation.

“You’re talking about two gritty competitors and fighters in Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy,” Harbaugh said. “So to answer the question of did it factor in that one would transfer or not -- no. My thoughts are that they are both the kind of guys that don’t flinch, fold, or quit at the slightest risk of adverse circumstances or something that doesn’t go their way. That’s not Cade McNamara. That’s not J.J. McCarthy.”

He emphasized that both players need to stick to their game. McNamara did an excellent job protecting the football and managing the offense a year ago, while McCarthy displayed great athleticism and playmaking ability.

He said McNamara has improved in terms of managing the pocket and extending plays. On the other hand, McCarthy is doing a better job going through his reads, taking what the defense gives him, and protecting the ball, Harbaugh said.

Eyabi Anoma

Michigan officially added defensive lineman Eyabi Anoma to the roster earlier this month. He’s a graduate transfer who originally played for Alabama, then went to Houston, then ended up at UT Martin in 2021.

Anoma is a graduate transfer, and he’s been practicing with the Wolverines for about 10-12 days, Harbaugh said.

“He’s been really good,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been a great teammate, and I look forward to seeing what he can do this coming season. I think he’ll be hopefully playing right away, in the first game. He’s showed some outstanding assets that he can bring to the team.”

Anoma reportedly left Alabama due to off-field issues, and he never stepped foot on the field during his stop at Houston.

Harbaugh was asked about the vetting process when he decided to let Anoma join the team so late in camp.

“Eyabi is somebody we recruited, I recruited right out of high school,” Harbaugh said. “I always felt like we finished maybe second in that (recruitment). I’ve always really enjoyed being around Eyabi, and I’m not aware of the vague ‘off-field issues’ that you refer to. But as it stands now, he’s a college graduate, really vouched for by his teammates, and he’s just a great guy to be around on a day-to-day basis.”

Offensive line depth chart

Harbaugh confirmed Ryan Hayes (left tackle), Trevor Keegan (left guard), and Zak Zinter (right guard) will remain starters on this year’s team. Virginia transfer Olusegun Oluwatimi is the new starting center.

All four of those players were expected to start, and Trente Jones unsurprisingly won the right tackle job.

Harbaugh is calling Karsen Barnhart the “sixth starter” who could fill in for anyone on the offensive line except Oluwatimi. The backup at center is Greg Crippen.

Jeffrey Persi, Giovanni El-Hadi, Reece Atteberry, and Raheem Anderson are also among the two-deep mix, according to Harbaugh.

Defensive line outlook

One of the most surprising developments of fall camp is Mason Graham securing a starting defensive tackle spot in the base package.

The true freshman didn’t have an overwhelming offer list out of high school, but he’ll play a major role on the defensive line right off the bat this season. Harbaugh confirmed he’s counting on Graham for “a lot of snaps” against Colorado State.

Another young defensive lineman on the rise is Rayshaun Benny. Harbaugh said he’s “surging like you can’t imagine.”

Mazi Smith will start at nose tackle, and Harbaugh said he has three starters on the edge: Jaylen Harrell, Taylor Upshaw, and Mike Morris.

Kris Jenkins was originally the starter at Graham’s position in the base, but now he’s the starting defensive end. That’s what opened the door for Graham.

Safeties

Michigan has three safeties who will be rotating in as starters, depending on the package: R.J. Moten, Makari Paige, and Rod Moore.

“Those three safeties have been outstanding,” Harbaugh said.

Walk-on special teams star Caden Kolesar is the fourth member of that rotation, Harbaugh said.

Michigan’s true freshman class has a trio of excellent safeties: Keon Sabb, Zeke Berry, and Kody Jones. They were all four-stars, but none of them were mentioned Monday as being in the rotation, at this point.

Replacing so much defensive talent

Harbaugh was asked about the difficulty of replacing so many of the team’s top defensive players. Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, and Daxton Hill were first-round talents (Ojabo slipped because of injury). Vincent Gray, Brad Hawkins, Josh Ross, and Christopher Hinton were established starters who also moved on.

But Harbaugh doesn’t seem overly worried about his defense.

“I see a lot of hungry guys at those positions,” Harbaugh said.

He said nobody knew Ojabo was going to be such a star at this time last year. He’s not ready to say the defense will be better, but it’s not out of the question.

“It has a chance, it has a chance to be better,” Harbaugh said. “It has the license, it has the ability to be, and now you go have at it and see if it can be.”

Releasing a depth chart

In the past, Harbaugh has been deliberately secretive about his depth chart. It took many by surprise when he released one so openly over the weekend.

So, why was that?

“Just for our team -- we were doing that for our team, so we’re doing that for everybody,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of times when you do that internally in a team, it has a way of getting out there. Sometimes it gets out there anyway, so we might as well release it.”


About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.