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Predicting Michigan: The quarterbacks

June 9th, 2014 by Derick Hutchinson


Predicting Michigan- Quarterbacks Gardner

In the first season of the post-Denard Robinson era, Michigan quarterbacks suffered from many of the mistakes that made “Shoelace” so inconsistent. Turnovers and mental errors led to Al Borges’s firing in favor of Alabama’s Doug Nussmeier, who will look to construct a more concrete identity for the Wolverines. Nussmeier has plenty of quarterback options to choose from, as Michigan returns its top two candidates from 2013 and adds a talented recruit to the mix.

The Starter

Despite speculation and fan frustration that call for the senior to lose his starting position in 2014, Devin Gardner will certainly be under center for Michigan at the start of the season.

Devin Gardner

Of the 11 games in 2013 in which a Big Ten quarterback totaled at least 350 yards and three touchdowns, Gardner did it five times. No other quarterback did it more than once (Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

Gardner took a small step back early in his first full year as the starting quarterback, throwing 10 interceptions in his first six games. The veteran was reluctant to take a sack and threw passes into coverage instead of protecting the ball. A costly interception in his own end zone nearly cost the Wolverines the game against Notre Dame, and similar plays put Michigan behind against Akron and Connecticut.

But Gardner matured during the second half of the season, taking better care of the football and throwing just one interception in six games. Despite playing behind an offensive line that surrendered 34 sacks in 2013, Gardner managed to throw for 954 combined yards against Indiana and Ohio State, showcasing his potential for the 2014 season.

The top priority for Gardner during the offseason was rehabbing a foot injury that sidelined him for the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wing’s Bowl in Arizona. Gardner battled through the injury in a heroic effort against Ohio State, but it ultimately brought a disappointing season to an early close.

Spring competition will benefit the athletic redshirt senior after he coasted through camp as the consensus starter in 2013. A healthy Gardner makes the Michigan offense more dynamic, as he features both an electric arm and quickness in the scrambling game.

Gardner will have to regroup from the loss of his favorite target Jeremy Gallon and mesh with a new-look receiving core. Freddy Canteen has emerged as one of the top targets for Gardner, who demonstrated the tendency to take shots downfield in 2013. Gardner has excellent arm strength, and Brady Hoke has surrounded him with athletic receivers that can beat defenders deep.

Michigan’s starting quarterback also features a unique type of rushing ability, which allows him to extend plays and find teammates downfield. Unlike typical dual-threat quarterbacks, Gardner prefers to stay behind the line of scrimmage and buy time for his receivers to break open. Though this habit often lead to sacks last season, if Gardner can minimize his movement behind the line and avoid defenders near the pocket, he will take advantage of a deeper and more athletic wide receiver unit.

Improvement along the offensive line will offer Gardner more time to throw in 2014, so expect the fifth-year senior to take advantage of an improved overall offense and resemble the quarterback that dominated the Big Ten during the end of the 2012 season. Gardner holds all of the physical tools to be a dominant quarterback and is poised for a bounce back season in 2014.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
2,700 23 9 62% 375 8
Career Stats
2012 2,960 21 11 60.3% 483 11
2012 1,219 11 5 59.5% 101 7
2011 176 1 1 47.8% 53 1
2010 85 1 0 70.0% 21 1
Totals 4,440 34 17 59.7% 658 20

Veteran depth

Shane Morris showed plenty of potential in Michigan's BWW Bowl loss to Kansas State (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Shane Morris showed plenty of potential in Michigan’s BWW Bowl loss to Kansas State (Christian Peterson, Getty Images)

Michigan returns two quarterbacks behind Gardner that have taken snaps during their Wolverine careers. Russell Bellomy returns to the lineup after tearing his ACL in spring practice and missing the entire 2013 season. Bellomy most notably took the reins for Michigan against Nebraska in 2012, throwing as many interceptions (three) as completions in 16 attempts.

Bellomy’s struggles ultimately forced Hoke to return Gardner to his original position of quarterback after he started as a wide receiver for the first eight games of the season. Bellomy represents the fourth quarterback option for the Wolverines heading into the season.

The more intriguing option behind Gardner is sophomore Shane Morris, who made a splash during his start in the bowl game last December. Though he failed to record a touchdown, the youngster demonstrated elite arm strength and completed 24-of-38 passing attempts.

Borges featured the former five-star recruit with a diverse selection of passing plays, and Morris looked comfortable running the offense as a freshman. Though Morris is a popular choice to compete with Gardner for the starting position, the electric sophomore is likely to hold the backup spot when Michigan takes the field on August 30.

Projected Stats – Morris
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
700 7 2 63% 59 0
Career Stats
2013 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Totals 261 0 2 61.7% 40 0
Projected Stats – Bellomy
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
70 0 0 55% 5 0
Career Stats
2013 0 0 0 0 0 0
2012 46 0 4 19.0% 16 0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 46 0 4 19.0% 16 0

Newcomers

Michigan added one quarterback in this season’s recruiting class: 6’6″, 230-pound Wilton Speight. Speight showcased his accurate arm during the Elite 11 camp in San Francisco last season, and figures to compete with Morris for the starting job in the coming years. The freshman is a prototypical pro-style quarterback, and threw for 63 yards as the starter for Team Nitro in the Under Armour All-American Game.

Speight has flown under the radar leading up to the 2014 season, but provides the closest resemblance to the type of quarterback that Nussmeier coached at Alabama. This freshman made dramatic improvements during his final season in prep school and will play a huge role for Michigan in the near future.