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Posts Tagged ‘Quarterback’

Predicting Michigan: The quarterbacks

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

With less than six weeks remaining before Michigan opens its season against Central Michigan, we are kicking off a preview series of position breakdowns and predictions. Naturally, we’re starting with the quarterbacks, and the newest member of our team, Derick, dives into what we can expect from the position this season.

Looking Back

The Denard Robinson era is officially over. While the flashy 5’11″ quarterback that Michigan fans so affectionately referred to as ‘Shoelace’ basically passed the baton to Devin Gardner midway through the 2012 season, his days in the Maize and Blue have officially come to an end. Robinson often drove fans crazy by forcing throws and tucking the ball too quickly to run during his tenure as starting quarterback, but the last couple of years could have been very ugly for Michigan without his unconventional play that kept defenses guessing to the tune of a Sugar Bowl victory and a streak-snapping win over the hated Buckeyes.

Denard was a once-in-a-lifetime player. His ability to turn any play into a big gain made the last two seasons exciting for the Michigan faithful who had little hope following three difficult seasons under former Head Coach Rich Rodriguez. Now the best rushing quarterback in college football history has moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars, so it’s time to see what the future will hold for the Wolverines.

The Savior: Devin Gardner

Robinson’s elbow injury on October 27 against Nebraska left a terrifying question mark for the rest of the 2012 season: Who will lead the offense? Gardner’s transition to wide receiver left redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy as the only backup option, and his struggles in the second half of the Nebraska game left the Michigan faithful panicking.

Gardner started the final five games last season

Brady Hoke had no choice but to move Gardner back to his original position against Minnesota the following week, and the former Elite 11 quarterback did not disappoint. Gardner, who was recruited as a top-5 quarterback, led the Michigan offense with explosive running and accurate passing, finishing the game with three touchdowns and a 12-of-18 completion rate.

Gardner continued to look comfortable at home, completing a miracle pass to Roy Roundtree with seconds left en route to forcing overtime against Northwestern, and then scoring six touchdowns on Senior Day against Iowa. Robinson’s injury that had initially created questions about Michigan’s short-term plans quickly turned into an outline for the future.

Thanks to Gardner’s late-season play, Michigan enters the 2013 season without even a hint of the dreaded “quarterback controversy.” The redshirt junior will lead an offense that promises to look more like that of the old Michigan teams before the Rich Rod era. Gardner has the ability to stand in the pocket and hit receivers downfield, an option that has been noticeably absent from the offense in recent years. He developed a strong connection with speedy receiver Jeremy Gallon in 2012, and the duo promises to frustrate defenses in the coming months. Expect Gardner to throw for a higher completion rate than Denard, even with his willingness to throw the ball away when there are no better options.

While Devin should improve the Michigan pocket-passing attack, when plays break down he can also improvise with his feet. Unlike other recent Michigan quarterbacks, Chad Henne and John Navarre, Gardner is more than capable of breaking a big run with his legs. Even more importantly, he extends plays by keeping his eyes downfield rather than breaking for the line of scrimmage as soon as pressure comes. This keeps options open and gives the offense flexibility.

Devin’s dual-threat ability gives him multiple weapons on a play-by-play basis. He is a complete quarterback that brings intangibles to an offense transitioning back to a more physical style of play. He showed the ability to create free plays for the offense by using the hard count and pulling the defense offside in 2012, a move that demonstrates how comfortable his is in his natural position. The temporary move to wide receiver will likely help Devin in the big picture. It taught him another side of the offensive game and gave him a more complete understanding of his receivers. In the end, he belongs in the backfield behind the center, as he will be in 2013.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % Rush Yds Rush TD
3,100 25 9 62% 550 8
Career Stats
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 1,480 13 6 58.5% 175 9

The New Kid: Shane Morris

Morris may not be afforded a redshirt this season

If it is possible to be a fan favorite before stepping foot on campus, Shane Morris has accomplished just that. The local quarterback made his loyalty to the University of Michigan clear when he signed before his senior year of high school. In the months that followed, Morris was very public about his attempts to recruit fellow highly-ranked recruits to join him at Michigan. The result was a top ten class and a fresh wave of excitement around Brady Hoke and the new staff.

Shane’s role in the 2013 season is still unclear. After missing much of his senior season with mononucleosis and coming in behind Gardner, many believe the lefty will redshirt. The move, however, is far from certain. Morris has shown through his recruiting and public support of Michigan that he is destined to be a leader in the future. Hoke may decide he would rather use the energetic freshman on the field at times to groom him for a leadership role in the near future.

On the field, expect Morris to be solid. He is athletic and, like Gardner, has the ability to extend plays and keep his eyes downfield. Listed at 6’3″, Morris is not afraid to be physical while running the ball, and his toughness should keep him on the field. Barring a redshirt, Shane will likely win the backup spot and potentially see time early in the year against teams like Akron and Central Michigan.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp %
300 2 2 55%

The Injury Bug: Russell Bellomy

Russell Bellomy tore his ACL in spring ball

The second half of the Nebraska game was a nightmare for Bellomy, as he completed the same number of passes to Cornhuskers defenders (three) as he did to his own team, finishing the game 3-of-16 for 38 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. While this game definitely left fans frustrated, understand that Bellomy was thrust into a difficult situation and this game was far from career-defining.

There was a chance, if Shane Morris had received a redshirt, that Bellomy could have played a major role in the upcoming season. The backup quarterback spot is always important on a team that has a dual-threat starter with rushing ability. That was before Bellomy suffered a torn ACL in April during a practice, however, and now it is likely that the former three-star recruit will miss the entire 2013 season.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp % INT Comp %
None in 2013
Career Stats
2012 46 0 4 19% 16 0
Totals 46 0 4 19% 16 0

This Year’s Bellomy: Brian Cleary

Redshirt freshman Brian Cleary has a chance to see some game action during the 2013 season. The Michigan native out of Detroit Jesuit would seemingly serve as the backup to Devin Gardner if Shane Morris receives a redshirt. Hoke may decide to keep Morris off the field as long as possible this season to keep the option of a redshirt open, and the result might be some clean-up time for Cleary in games like Akron that are destined to be blowouts by halftime. At this point, he does not seem to be in line for meaningful minutes during the 2013 season.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp %
150 1 1 50%

The Odd Man Out: Alex Swieca

Many fans may have never heard of Alex Swieca. The walk-on has yet to take a snap at Michigan, and it is highly unlikely that will change during the upcoming season. Swieca didn’t play any football in high school, but did play overseas in the Israel Football League for a year before enrolling at Michigan. Swieca’s love of the game makes for a cool story, as he continues to attend practices and workouts despite not seeing even a second of playing time, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a chance that he sees the field this year.

Projected Stats
Passing Yds Pass TD INT Comp %
None in 2013

Wrapping Up

Al Borges has to like what he’s working with at quarterback this season. The Michigan offense is in good hands when Gardner is on the field, which should be every meaningful snap. His athletic body and intelligence will help him avoid injury, something that the Maize and Blue faithful have had to worry about too often the last few years.

If something unexpected does keep Gardner off the field for an extended period of time, expect Hoke to call on Morris without hesitation. While the coaching staff would love to save Morris a year of eligibility to develop and learn the offense, the injury to Bellomy gives them no other option. Morris is highly regarded coming into his freshman year and would at least help Michigan remain competitive in most games. Obviously a drop-off from Gardner would be inevitable.

After Morris, there are nothing but question marks. Even the deepest teams in the country would be hard-pressed to win games with their fourth or fifth options at quarterback. In a conference like the Big Ten, Michigan will need a big year from Gardner to compete for their first championship since 2004. Thankfully for Michigan fans, as showcased last season, the dual-threat junior definitely has it in him.

MMQ doesn’t want to hear talk of a quarterback controversy

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Let me guess. Denard goes down with an injury and it’s announced during pre-game warm-ups that he is out of the game. In comes the 2011 backup quarterback, Devin Gardner, in place of 2012 second string quarterback Russell Bellomy. Gardner puts up numbers that look like the following: 12-of-18 for 234 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, 10 carries for 21 yards and a rushing touchdown. Not only that, but on a day when the offensive line sometimes looked like swiss cheese against arguably one of the worst defensive lines in the Big Ten, Gardner ran around avoiding sacks and making plays until he found the open receiver.

I bet you think he should be the starting quarterback, right? Why shouldn’t he? If he can play like that and throw the ball like he did, he should be the guy behind center on Saturdays! Well, you’re wrong.

Devin Gardner excelled at filling in for Denard (AP photo)

First of all, and most importantly, Denard Robinson is the heart and soul of this team. He is the undisputed leader of the ball club. The guy who has been there, working his butt off day in and day out to become a better player, all so he could try and lead this team to a championship. Denard was the guy who came to Michigan as Rich Rod’s dream quarterback. He stuck with the program through all of the losses and heartache, when Michigan football lost its identity because a coach was hired who didn’t understand what Michigan football was all about. You can’t replace leadership like Denard brings and no coach who wanted to keep their job would bench a player who represents everything that Michigan is at this time.

But look how well Gardner played, you say? Okay, let’s take a look at that. It’s not like Denard has never had a game like Gardner did against Minnesota. See Air Force and UMass this year. And Notre Dame and Nebraska last season. Speaking of last season, here’s Denard’s stat line for last year’s game: 15-fo-19 for 169 yards, two touchdowns, six carries for 51 yards and a touchdown. Eerily similar to Gardner’s. And that was against a Minnesota defense which had seven of the top eight back on the defensive line, their top six linebackers returning, and two of four starters back in the secondary. Devin Gardner didn’t do anything that Denard Robinson isn’t capable of. He simply stepped up when his team needed someone to fill in for Denard while he gets his elbow healed up. Speaking of stepping up, Michigan’s wide receiver corps had its best game of the season on Saturday. They did a great job of aiding Gardner in his efforts by making some big catches when it mattered.

Look, Gardner is an outstanding athlete who needs to be on the field. I thought the coaches were wise when, over the offseason, they started working Gardner in at receiver. Early in the season, it looked as if Michigan was going to be thin at the receiver position. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case at this point in the season, but that doesn’t change the fact that Gardner still needed to have a place on the field – alongside Denard, not instead of Denard. The coaches experimented with the two-quarterback system last year and it failed, so that wasn’t an option. A spot at receiver for Gardner was the answer.

Denard is the heart and soul of the team and the QB spot is still his (AP photo)

If anything, what this situation has made clear is that Michigan’s offense has potential following Denard’s departure after this season.  The second half of the Nebraska game had everyone worrying about whether or not Michigan could even be in contention in the Big Ten next season without Denard. Bellomy certainly wasn’t giving anyone any confidence. The next option might have been incoming freshman Shane Morris, a five-star, and the No. 2 rated quarterback in the nation, according to Rivals. But true freshmen QBs have growing pains too, even when they enter college as highly-touted prep stars. So even with Morris behind center, the Wolverines were looking at one, maybe two, years of a so-so offense behind a true freshman QB and an offensive which still needs work.

I submit that Gardner’s performance on Saturday did not answer the question ‘What does Michigan do at QB for the rest of this season?’ Instead, it answered, ‘What does Michigan do at QB next season?’ Gardner will be a senior next year, which means that Brady Hoke and Al Borges will be able to redshirt Morris. This means one year of practice to get up to speed with the complexity of the college game as compared to high school. It also means that Morris will have four more years of eligibility, making him even more valuable to the Michigan offense. And if Hoke can continue to bring in top recruiting classes, the pieces will be in the place for both Gardner next season and Morris in the future, especially if he can add LaQuan Treadwell, the nation’s top rated receiver.

Denard is statistically one of the best quarterbacks in Michigan football history. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Denard may not have the career passing numbers of a Chad Henne or a John Navarre. Nor does he have the win-loss record of some of Michigan’s best from the past. But he is the guy who stuck with the program through all of the ups and downs through the Rich Rod era and the guy who Michigan fans, and college football fans for that matter, have come to know as the face of Michigan football. He was a reason to be excited about Michigan football through these lean years because he gave Michigan a chance to win every Saturday. He is the undisputed starting quarterback for this football team as long as he’s healthy enough to play.