ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- After running his first practice as Michigan's coach, Jim Harbaugh made it clear how much work lies ahead.
"We're still trying to figure out who the best players are right now," he said. "And their best position. We don't know what everyone's best position is, or who the best players are at those positions. That'll be a process."
It all began Tuesday with Harbaugh's first spring practice in charge of the Wolverines, a longtime power coming off a 5-7 season that led to the dismissal of coach Brady Hoke.
Hired by his alma mater less than two months ago to turn around the program, Harbaugh was eager to get a jump on preparations for the upcoming season. Although Ann Arbor is still blanketed by snow, and the weather has forced the Wolverines to conduct spring practices indoors, Harbaugh wanted to get his team on the field as quickly as possible.
Michigan opened spring practice earlier than every other Big Ten team. Northwestern, which will hold its first practice Wednesday, is the only other team in the conference that will kick things off in February.
Ohio State (March 10) and Michigan State (March 24) still have weeks of winter conditioning remaining, after their seasons were extended by late bowl games.
"I think (an early start) was important," Harbaugh said. "We haven't had football since last November. We didn't have a bowl or bowl practices. It felt like the time to do it, as early as we could. I wanted to make sure we got a good seven, eight weeks of conditioning in before we did it."
The former San Francisco 49ers coach was pleased with what he saw on the first day out. Harbaugh lauded the players' offseason conditioning under new strength and conditioning coach Kevin Tolbert but said there is still plenty of work to be done.
"A lot of people think Jan. 1 is the start of a new year," Harbaugh said, "but we in football treat the first day of spring practice as the start of a new year.
"It's like your birthday or New Year's or Thanksgiving," he added. "It's like Christmas. It's like a family reunion. It's all of those things, all rolled in one. It's happening. It's like the first day of school -- you lay your clothes out the night before, pack your lunchbox tight and you head to school."
Many fans will be keeping a close eye on the quarterback situation this offseason, because of Harbaugh's successful stint as Michigan's QB in the 1980s and the up-and-down production the Wolverines have had from their signal-callers in recent years.
Now that Russell Bellomy has transferred to Texas-San Antonio, Michigan has seven quarterbacks on the roster, including Shane Morris, who made one start last season, a loss to Minnesota in which he suffered a concussion.
The Wolverines will also add two more this summer: Houston transfer John O'Korn and freshman Zach Gentry. Although that's a lot of quarterbacks on a roster, Harbaugh is excited about the competition it will breed.
For now, he and fellow offensive coaches Tim Drevno and Jedd Fisch will keep a close eye on the battle.
"We don't have (a starter) named today, but at some point, you'd like to think that that is clear-cut," Harbaugh said. "Somebody earns that and it is not close. That's what we're hoping for. They were all good to start, and there will be good competition at that position."
Harbaugh also said that, in addition to injured running back Drake Johnson and tight end Khalid Hill, fullback Sione Houma will miss spring practices after undergoing an undisclosed procedure. Houma is expected to be back in the fold for summer workouts.