It’s hard to believe, but the 2013 Michigan football season is just around the corner, and expectations for Brady Hoke’s program are as high as they have been since his arrival prior to the 2011 season. This is a team that has Big Ten Championship aspirations, and perhaps more. The biggest factor in if that happens or not, though, is dependent on the play they get from the quarterback position.
Starter: Going into this season, discussion about who holds down the quarterback duties for this team starts and ends with Devin Gardner, who came on late last season for an injured Denard Robinson to show flashes of what could be a special player. Gardner, recruited as a quarterback out of Inkster, Michigan, had switched to wide receiver prior to the 2012 season, but after Russell Bellomy faltered in relief of Robinson vs. Nebraska, a change had to be made. In five starts at the end of the season, Gardner threw for 1,219 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions, while completing a shade under 60% of his passes. He also added seven rushing touchdowns in those five games.
Gardner gained an extra year of eligibility a few months back as well, meaning this is basically his job through 2014, unless he completely explodes a la Cam Newton in 2010 and leaves for the NFL. Gardner is the perfect guy to help transition from the spread offense run under Denard Robinson to the more pro-style system that Offensive Coordinator Al Borges wants to run. Gardner is infinitely a more polished a passer than Robinson ever was, yet still possesses some of the traits Denard had as far as mobility goes. He will be able to use his feet to buy time in the pocket and make plays.
Some will argue that Devin Gardner doesn’t quite have the weapons this year he needs to be a successful quarterback, but I disagree. Two things that he has going for him are his tight ends and his running backs. Sophomore tight end Devin Funchess was a weapon in the passing game early last year and should develop into one of Gardner’s favorite targets, along with incoming freshman Jake Butt, who by all accounts had a very good spring. The Michigan running attack will be improved as well, as Fitz Toussaint will be back from injury and will share carries with 2013’s top running back prospect, Derrick Green. Sophomore Dennis Norfleet could be the third-down back that Gardner needs as well.
Projection: 3,170 yards passing, 32 total TD’s, 12 INTs
Backups: The biggest storyline at this position leading up to the opener against Central Michigan will be who ends up as the second-string quarterback. For much of the off-season, it was believed that redshirt sophomore Russell Bellomy would back-up Devin Gardner, but he tore his ACL during spring practices and will be out for the season. This leaves redshirt freshman Brian Cleary and true freshman Shane Morris as the two guys most likely to be that number-two guy on the depth chart. The biggest concern about this is that if Gardner was to go down, there is not an experienced guy behind him to take game snaps. There was talk of redshirting Morris early on, but that’s not something I would risk now.
I believe when it’s said and done, Morris does emerge as the guy behind Devin Gardner, and he should. I watched Cleary play in the Spring Game and was not overly impressed. There is far more upside to having Morris take 2nd team snaps in practice. I for one have never been in favor of a player learning by holding a clipboard. It’s just not that effective (Unless you are Aaron Rodgers sitting behind Brett Favre. That worked out quite well). Worst case scenario, the guy that many believe to be the future of the program at the quarterback position gets live, in-game snaps, something that would be far more beneficial than a redshirt.
This will be a make-or-break position for the 2013 Michigan Wolverines. If Gardner flourishes after a full off-season to develop, the Wolverines could be smelling roses. If he does not, or falls due to injury, it could be a long season for Team 134.
Next up in our Team 134 Preview will be a breakdown of the stable of running backs Michigan will feature this season. Keep it locked in here for the latest on all Michigan football news and recruiting updates.