Devin Gardner Isn't a Lock to Retain His Starting Position
Instead of coming off what was supposed to be his best season as the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, he’s heading into spring practice after an incredibly disappointing 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten) 2013 campaign.
He also is dealing with a multitude of schematic changes after firing offensive coordinator Al Borges and replacing him with former Alabama OC Doug Nussmeier, who brings a new system and promises a much better output under his play-calling tenure.
It also means that Hoke has to open up the competition at quarterback, a position that Devin Gardner has held since Denard Robinson went down with injury in November of 2012.
There were a lot of up-and-down moments for Gardner last season. At times he looked like an elite passer—most notably his performances against Indiana and Ohio State—and other times where he couldn’t keep the football in the offense’s possession to save his life (e.g. Akron and Connecticut).
Now if there’s anyone that can squeeze every ounce of talent out of Gardner, it’s Nussmeier. Just ask AJ McCarron, who broke the Crimson Tide’s school record of passing touchdowns in a single season during his junior year with 30.
However, Nussmeier isn’t coming in to coddle Gardner and give him rights to the position just because he’s the incumbent. He’ll do what he can to develop Gardner, but will put the best player on the field come game day.
That could very well end up being soon-to-be sophomore Shane Morris.
Gardner was banged up in the loss to Ohio State and didn’t play in Michigan’s bowl game against Kansas State. And although the Wolverines lost pretty badly, Morris actually looked pretty good controlling what was an inconsistent offensive unit.
Morris is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound left-handed gunslinger that was a four-star prospect and the No. 3 pro-style passer in the country coming out of his high school in Warren, MI., according to 247sports. He completed 24-of-38 (63.2 percent) of his attempts for 196 yards and an interception in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Given an entire offseason in Ann Arbor and the challenge of an open competition with an equal amount of reps with the first team offense this spring, Morris will definitely vie as a huge threat to Gardner as the 2014 signal-caller. He seems to be a pure fit for Nussmeier’s pro-style system, rather than the spread, which is what Gardner is more accustomed to.
But Morris isn’t the only counterpart Gardner needs to worry about. There’s a lot of high praise and chatter surrounding incoming freshman Wilton Speight, a three-star Virginia native that stands at 6-foot-6, thrives under pressure in the pocket (HELLO, MICHIGAN) and has outstanding velocity on his throws. He’s very reminiscent of current Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler, who has a successful collegiate career with Arizona State.
It’s safe to say that Gardner has a leg up on his competition, but that could quickly change if he doesn’t show up and take command of the team this spring. It’ll be interesting to see how this one unfolds.
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