Michigan had no shortage of highly touted recruits in its vaunted 2013 recruiting class, but its most important recruit might have been its first: 5-star QB Shane Morris, who committed to the Wolverines all the way back in May 2011, spending nearly 21 months as a verbal commitment before finally signing with Michigan on Wednesday.
Now, getting recruits onto campus is one thing. Getting them onto the field is another, and now the question about Shane Morris isn't if he's going to play, but when. And every answer is on the table—including "right away."
When asked during ESPNU's signing day coverage on Wednesday, Brady Hoke said that Morris would be in competition with Gardner for the starting QB role in 2013, but it was more because competition is just an aspect of Michigan's practices (as it ought to be, of course) than anything else. Hoke didn't mention any weaknesses that Gardner had to work on, for example, so until further notice it sounds like a competition for competition's sake more than a competition because the incumbent is underperforming.
Will Shane Morris redshirt in 2013?
And let's be clear: Devin Gardner is not underperforming. If he had been at quarterback long enough to qualify for end-of-year efficiency statistics, he would have been the top-rated quarterback in the Big Ten, and he led all Big Ten quarterbacks in yards per pass attempt in 2012. Combine that with top-flight athleticism on scrambles (though Gardner has never looked like a big-play threat à la Denard Robinson or Braxton Miller), and he looks like a safe incumbent through 2013.
Lord knows Brady Hoke would like Gardner to have the starting spot safely locked up over the course of the 2013 season, because that would allow Morris to redshirt and not waste a precious year of eligibility on the sidelines.
And yet this competition is not over before it starts. Morris has an opportunity to, at the very least, push Gardner and force him to earn the starting role.
Here's the thing about Devin Gardner: He's like a football version of Tracy McGrady. His physical gifts are tantalizing and practically unparalleled, and he is capable of making plays that are basically impossible for all but a few of his peers. Like this one.
However, when that capability isn't realized—see the second half of the Ohio State game, the 18 incompletions he fired in the Outback Bowl or the slow-motion train wreck that was the 2012 spring game—it can be difficult for observers (and coaches) to understand or accept.
The common term for this is "inconsistency," but for someone with such prodigious athletic gifts, there's no consistency until he's performing at that elite level with such regularity that he's basically one of the greatest players of all time. And like Tracy McGrady, Devin Gardner is certainly not the greatest player of all time.
Thus, with that maddening inconsistency lurking with Gardner—and in a sport as consistency-crazy as football to boot—Morris can at least impress coaches by practicing as hard as possible. And that seems entirely within his character, being that he had been committed to Michigan for over a year, scholarship offer in hand, when he spent the summer of 2012 going to camps with the intent of self-improvement and earning the coveted fifth star from recruiting services in the process.
So there is, at the very least, a theoretical avenue by which Morris makes this a serious quarterback competition right away. If Brady Hoke and the rest of the Michigan coaches are satisfied with what Gardner brings to the table—even if it's not all amazing, all the time—then this discussion's over pretty quickly. But it's up to Gardner to hold Morris off here.