Michigan Football: Why Devin Gardner Has the Most to Prove in Spring Practice

Adam JacobiBig Ten Football Lead WriterFebruary 15, 2013

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 24: Quarterback Devin Gardner #12 of the Michigan Wolverines leads the huddle against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on November 24, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Devin Gardner will be the Michigan Wolverines' starting quarterback in 2013. Probably. Certainly the coaches are hoping so, based on Gardner's level of play after being elevated to starting QB the week after Denard Robinson went down with an ulnar nerve injury against Nebraska.

His yards per attempt and passer efficiency rating would have led the Big Ten if he qualified for end-of-year stats. He can qualify in our hearts and minds, anyway. 

That said, Gardner doesn't have this spot locked up. This is still the same Gardner who went 18-for-36 in a losing effort in the Outback Bowl, frequently sailing throws over otherwise open receivers' heads. His reads were generally solid, but five interceptions in 125 attempts is a higher INT rate than coaches want.

And he's going to be just a year removed from being this guy:

That train wreck of a performance sealed his (now temporary) move to wideout, as backup Russell Bellomy clearly outplayed him in the 2012 spring game and thus indicated to coaches that Robinson could be capably backed up without Gardner available at QB.

The Nebraska game proved that to be monstrous folly, of course, as Bellomy was a disaster in relief of Robinson and Gardner sealed his spot at QB by torching Minnesota the next week.

But, still, the perception was there that Gardner would help the team more as a wide receiver than as a quarterback and the perception was going to persist as long as Robinson was healthy.

Gardner can't afford another spring like 2012. Not with Shane Morris finally making it to campus with an eye on playing right away. Michigan coaches would obviously prefer that Morris redshirt so they can minimize the amount of time he and Gardner are both using up eligibility, but Michigan is perpetually in a "win right now" state of mind.

If Morris outperforms Gardner in practice, the coaches will notice and adjust plans accordingly.

At the same time, though, Gardner can absolutely lock up his starting role in 2013 with a great spring. He has physical gifts that very, very few other quarterbacks in college football possess. He's big, athletic, has a strong arm and an uncanny nose for the first-down line to gain on scrambles.

So if he puts all that together and avoids the lapses that drive coaches crazy, he'll be the starter and the Morris succession plan will follow normal lines. But that's up to Gardner first and foremost.