Chad Henne can recite most of the names like he's rattling off his own birthdate, the same way a University of Miami running back or Penn State linebacker can whip off the deep and rich lineage at their positions.
Tom Brady. Brian Griese. Elvis Grbac. Todd Collins. Jim Harbaugh. "Being in that group of quarterbacks at Michigan, you know it means something," the most recent former Wolverines signal-caller said. "You carry that with you everywhere you go."
And for Michigan quarterbacks, where you go is the NFL, a place where the fabric of Wolverine quarterbacks has been sturdy if not successful. The aforementioned five players (three of them still active) have amassed 51 seasons of experience between them since Harbaugh was drafted in 1987. And in between them, even the NFL flameouts from Michigan players like Drew Henson and John Navarre managed to hang around for a second before getting bounced from the league.
Now it's Henne carrying the tradition, and if his last few months are any indication, he could be tabbed higher than any other Michigan quarterback in the history of the draft. Harbaugh currently holds that distinction, having gone 26th overall to the Chicago Bears.
While some teams with late first-round picks have been eyeing Henne the Seattle Seahawks at No. 25 overall brought him in for a workout and reportedly are highly interested, according to a league source most have him pegged as a second-round pick and the third best quarterback in the draft, behind Boston College's Matt Ryan and Delaware's Joe Flacco. But he's helped himself immensely since notching 373 yards and three touchdowns in an eye-opening bowl win over Florida. Since that victory, Henne has been on a roll: he was named the North's offensive MVP in the Senior Bowl; he rebounded from a lukewarm NFL scouting combine workout to perform well in team interview sessions; and he's been impressive on a tour of individual workouts.
In turn, Henne has gone from rounding out the top five at his position to pushing Flacco for the opportunity to be the second quarterback taken in the draft.
"From what I've seen, he's going to be successful at the next level," said Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin, who personally tutored Henne while coaching the North squad at the Senior Bowl. "He's more athletic than he got credit for in college. He's got some zip on his ball. And he can command and lead players. He really has all of those tools you look for."
Coaches also say Henne carries the traits of his predecessors who came out of Michigan and carved out lasting careers. As a group, they were all defined by preparation and leadership. But Henne also has some striking similarities when it comes to player-to-player comparisons. His arm is in the same neighborhood as Griese's, and he has a long college résumé loaded with the big-game experience of Grbac, Navarre and Harbaugh. A four-year starter with the Wolverines, he owns nearly all of the schools major passing records. And like Brady, he showcased resiliency under pressure and expectations as a senior, finishing his career with a bowl flourish despite injuries and a fan base that often decried what he didn't or couldn't do.
He's also the proverbial last dodo bird in Michigan's tribe of successful pocket quarterbacks, with the Wolverines implementing the spread offense of new coach Rich Rodriguez. But even if the scheme wasn't changing, it's likely Henne's numbers would have a lasting shelf life. A career 60-percent passer, he finished with 9,715 passing yards and 87 touchdowns eye-popping numbers for a school that has prided itself on a balanced scheme.
And yet, it is arguably the last three-plus months that have defined Henne's promise. After missing all or parts of six games last season with leg and shoulder injuries and generally being labeled as streaky over the course of his entire career Henne got lost in the mix of quarterbacks whose stock took a hit in 2007. Much like Kentucky's Andre Woodson and Louisville's Brian Brohm, the exposure of Henne's senior season drew the nitpicking that scouts live for raising questions about health, the quickness of his release and his overall athleticism. He also reportedly scored a relatively uninspiring 22 on the Wonderlic, the league's standardized test which typically carries more weight for a quarterback than any other position. In comparison, Ryan reportedly scored a 32 on the Wonderlic, and Flacco a 27.
"His health had a lot to do with (the questions)," said Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak. "But skill-wise and numbers-wise, he's right up there at the top of his position. I think if he had been healthy, there might not be the level of second-guessing."
Not that it has hurt Henne's stock all that much. By the end of this week, he'll have had private workouts with eight teams the Seahawks, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins. He's also drawn at least cursory interest from the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears.
In reality, as an overall package measuring at nearly 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds at the scouting combine he's got most of the traits teams crave. Not only does he have good size and an adequate arm, he has the big-game seasoning that comes from being a four-year starter at a nationally renowned program. And his bowl finale against Florida, in which Michigan went to a more wide-open offense, displayed some things that even Henne knew would open some eyes at the next level.
"It was definitely a different perspective," Henne said. "We spread them out. We went empty. I was in the shotgun a lot. And throughout my career, I was mostly under center. It shows versatility, I guess, being in the shotgun and able to go under center."
That versatility has been on display ever since, as teams have moved Henne in and out of the shotgun in his personal workouts. And by in large, reports have been the stuff that harkens back to Henne's Michigan lineage: good interviews, good leadership traits, and solid all-around performances.
"He's coming from a good place," Kubiak said. "You know he's been tested. All he has to do now is apply all of it. And Michigan (quarterbacks) don't usually have a problem with that."