Michigan Football: Granting QB Devin Gardner a Fifth Year Is a Game-Changer

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Michigan Football: Granting QB Devin Gardner a Fifth Year Is a Game-Changer
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One of the biggest nuggets of information to come from Brady Hoke's latest news conference was the revelation that junior quarterback Devin Gardner is possibly still-a-sophomore Devin Gardner instead.

Here's more from AnnArbor.com:

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday he expects Gardner's medical hardship waiver to be accepted, which would grant the junior a redshirt for an injury-shortened true freshman season.

That means Gardner would have two years of eligibility remaining instead of one.

"I would expect that would go through," Hoke said. "I think all the documentation and everything is being sent to the Big Ten."

Gardner played in three of the first four games of his freshman season in 2010 while backing up Denard Robinson at quarterback, but a balky back sidelined him and he didn't play the rest of the season.

This should be a fairly simple procedure for Gardner and Michigan.

The Wolverines played 13 games in 2010, and Gardner was healthy through the fourth game. That's technically more than 30 percent of the season (which is the usual cutoff for medical redshirts), but the NCAA rounds down so Gardner will sneak in under the limit without a problem.

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Moreover, this isn't an application for a sixth year, it's just a redshirt. Sixth years require demonstrating that the player missed two years to injury, and if Gardner had a healthy redshirt year on his record already he'd be out of luck.

But just a plain medical redshirt? This is textbook. He'll be fine.

What this all means for Michigan is a vastly different dynamic at quarterback over the next several years—including well after Gardner has moved on to different things.

The first way this affects Michigan is glaringly obvious but needs to be mentioned: It's an extra year of having a returning starting quarterback. That is a very valuable thing for a football program! Any time you can have a known quantity at your most important position (and, y'know, he's good at football) you're taking care of your biggest offseason priority.

A returning starting quarterback—especially a fifth-year guy—isn't just a QB who "knows the offense." He knows the offense better than last year, which means you can do more with that offense. He knows his teammates better than last year, which means things like timing routes will be crisper.

Most importantly, he knows his opponents better than last year, which means game preparation will be less about gaining familiarity with the opposing defense and more about attacking it.

So for Michigan to have that kind of an asset in 2014 instead of bidding Gardner adieu in 2013 totally changes the way that season's going to shape up.

What it also means is that Michigan's more likely to have that exact same luxury in 2017.

As it stood with Gardner as a junior right now, he was going to enter his senior season with his primary backup likely to be highly touted 5-star QB prospect Shane Morris. Morris will be a member of the class of 2013 (barring one of the world's most unlikely decommits ever; he's rock-solid and has been since May of 2011), and he is obviously the future of Michigan football.

A case could be made for leaving the redshirt off Morris and having him function as the primary backup; however, that way he could be more accustomed to in-game action by the next season. You can't blame a coach for being nervous about handing the keys of his offense to a redshirt freshman who hasn't gone up against an opponent before, can you?

Ah, but when a true freshman comes in and there's a junior starting QB in place? That kid is getting redshirted, zero questions asked, and he is spending that first year acclimating himself to what's almost always a brand new game.

So if Morris is more likely to be redshirted in 2013, that means he's more likely to be a fifth-year senior for Michigan in 2017—assuming he stays around that long, and you really should know better than to assume kids will be good enough to go pro early before they even sign their letters of intent.

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

But back to Gardner.

Watching him play in these past four games, it has been obvious that he has the physical skills to succeed in Al Borges' offense, but it's also obvious that in terms of prep work he's not there yet. And who can blame him? He spent most of the season at wideout.

These four games were his first starts at college QB ever. Very, very few players could even get to where Gardner did, much less be superstars at this point.

That adjustment and improvement is likely to continue into next season, and again it's not that much of a surprise. The offense still needs to get fitted around Gardner's skill set to boot, and that's going to take months of adjustment and fine-tuning.

And it'd be too bad to have Gardner's college career come to a close right when things were getting good for that offense.

Ah, but one more season after that? Essentially a third year of starting? That's the sweet spot. That's the difference between Taylor Martinez last year and Taylor Martinez this year. That's the difference between Braxton Miller this year and what Braxton Miller's going to do to opponents next year. That's having the college version of a veteran QB. That's serious trouble for opposing defenses.

That's a game-changer.

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