Michigan Football: Why Wolverines Can't Abandon Devin Gardner's Running Ability
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Now that Denard Robinson is headed to the NFL, Michigan is finally going to switch over to the physical, pro-style attack.
Or is it?
With the loss of three starters along the offensive line, a huge question mark at tailback and the emergence of Devin Gardner at quarterback, can Michigan effectively make the transition?
Actually, it might be silly not to employ all of the skills Gardner brought to Michigan.
Recruited as a 5-star dual-threat quarterback, Gardner displayed his ability as a receiver by catching 16 passes (including four touchdowns) during the first half of 2012.
After Robinson injured his throwing arm during the Nebraska loss, Gardner started the final five games at quarterback, rushing 47 times for 101 net yards and seven touchdowns. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, 11 going for touchdowns.
Even if Michigan stuck entirely to the pro-style offense, Gardner could run the ball several times a game, whether it's a designed roll-out, quarterback draw or a Houdini-like escape from the pocket.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges can also see Gardner running some of Robinson's specialty: the read-option.
"We're going to keep some of that stuff in our offense because we have a mobile quarterback,” Borges told annarbor.com. “And as long as we have a quarterback that can threaten the defense as a runner, we're going to have bits and pieces of that...”
"Are we going to run him 25 times?” he added. “That's over. We're not doing that anymore. That was logical, with what we had (in Robinson). but now we want the quarterback to be more of a passer-runner, than a runner-passer."
So Michigan's team will remain in transition. Borges had hoped to install the pro-style attack since he arrived with head coach Brady Hoke two seasons ago, but Robinson demonstrated how a quarterback could make a living with his feet.
Since Gardner is expected to be Michigan's starting quarterback this fall, keeping a portion of the read-option might be a blessing in disguise.
Running the pro-style offense requires a talented and experienced offensive line along with a tailback who can effectively run between the tackles. Hoke landed 10 offensive linemen in the last two recruiting cycles, so the O-line will be a strength in the near future. The Wolverines must replace both guards and the center, however, so patience should be in order.
The running back situation is also a plus down the road, but Fitzgerald Toussaint is the only back with appreciable experience, and he's coming off a nasty leg injury. Hoke recruited a pair of likely stars in Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith, but it's a lot to ask for freshmen to immediately carry an offense.
The pro-style attack is definitely coming to Michigan, just not right away. Thanks to Gardner's athleticism and 4.57 speed, the Wolverines have other options.
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