Peters may be top QB option for Illini

 

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CHAMPAIGN — Brandon Peters' background hits on all the high points expected of an elite quarterback. The Avon, Ind., native was the 2015 Indiana Mr. Football and Gatorade Player of the Year — two awards capping a prep career that saw him throw for 6,843 yards and 79 touchdowns.

Peters' recruiting rankings reflected that. He was a consensus four-star recruit ranked as high as No. 34 nationally by 247Sports and firmly among the top quarterbacks in the 2016 class.

Pro-style quarterbacks, at least.

That raises the question with Peters moving from Michigan to Illinois: How will a drop-back passer fit in Illini offensive coordinator Rod Smith's scheme built in years' past around dual-threat quarterbacks like Denard Robinson, Pat White, Khalil Tate, and at Illinois last season AJ Bush Jr. and M.J. Rivers II?

"If the offense is dependent on a true dual-threat quarterback, then I'd say no, Peters isn't a great fit," said Brandon Brown, who covers Michigan for TheWolverine.com on the Rivals network. "He's athletic and talented, but he's not a run-first guy, nor is he someone who can regularly stack up a lot of rushing yards in a game.

"That's just not who he is. He can move in the pocket, pick up a first down and keep a defense honest, but I definitely wouldn't call him a weapon as a runner."

Peters, who was coach Jim Harbaugh's first quarterback commit at Michigan, had 17 career rushing attempts in two seasons after redshirting in 2016, and his career rushing yards stand at negative-36. As a passer, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback completed 58 of 110 passes for 680 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions in his time with the Wolverines.

"Peters has a very good arm and won't have a problem making any throws," Brown said. "He's a big, strong kid and can do everything you need a quarterback to do, but he's never been billed as a quarterback with a rocket arm or anything like that."

Most of Peters' passing production came in 2017 when he made four starts and appeared in six games with both Wilton Speight and John O'Korn sidelined by injuries. One of those starts came in the 2018 Outback Bowl — a Michigan loss. By that time, the Wolverines had already secured the commitment of Shea Patterson, and Peters found himself behind both the Mississippi transfer and redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey in 2018.

"When Peters first got his number called he looked great," Brown said. "He was poised, athletic and showed off a solid arm. Then over the course of a few games he took some big hits, and it seemed to really rattle him. He came back but never really looked the same again. His confidence was shaken, and he just never grabbed a hold of the starting job."

Brown said Peters' biggest strength is how he handles himself in the pocket. He epitomizes "cool and calm" on the field and has since high school. There were times Brown said, however, Peters might have been too calm and too cool.

"Harbaugh mentioned a lot that he had to really push Peters to be more vocal and outspoken," Brown said. "Everyone knows that Harbaugh has no problem doing that now and definitely didn't as a player either. Because of that, it's not a stretch to assume that their personalities didn't mesh really well. We never heard Harbaugh say anything bad about Peters, but it became obvious pretty quick that he was down the depth chart a bit last year and was hardly ever talked about."

As a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining, Peters will boast the most experience of any Illinois quarterback when training camp starts Aug. 2. Redshirt freshman Matt Robinson's three games worth of experience in 2018 was good for just 3 of 6 passing for 11 yards and eight carries for 24 yards, while fellow redshirt freshman Coran Taylor didn't appear in a single game.

Freshman Isaiah Williams, a four-star recruit from Trinity Catholic in St. Louis, could wind up Peters' stiffest competition for the starting quarterback spot.

"I don't know a lot about the quarterbacks at Illinois, but I know Isaiah Williams is a freak of an athlete and will push for snaps in that offense," Brown said. "With that said, Peters is talented. I was a big fan of him when he signed with Michigan, but obviously things just didn't work out in Ann Arbor. He's got prototypical size, a good arm and is a plus athlete. I'll go out on a limb and say he is the starter on Oct. 12 when Illinois plays against the Wolverines."

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).