Michigan Football: What Devin Gardner's 5th Year Means for the Offense
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The Michigan football program already planned to transition from the spread offense to a pro-style attack once Denard Robinson departed. Now that Devin Gardner has been granted an extra year of eligibility, the unit could rank among the nation's best for the next two seasons.
If Gardner had not been given a fifth year, the Wolverines would have been faced with turning the offense over to either an underclassman or a redshirt junior who went 3-for-13 with three interceptions in his only opportunity to seize the starting job.
Instead, Michigan will have a savvy veteran under center in 2014. Gardner will have to carry the load for much of the 2013 campaign with so many young pieces around him.
Once those talented freshmen and sophomores get a year of experience under their belts this season, though, the Wolverines' offense will be a dominant force.
The Maize and Blue faithful are expecting nothing less, especially given the immense amount of potential Gardner put on display at the end of 2012.
Gardner threw for 1,219 yards and scored 18 total touchdowns in just five starts. Those numbers are even more impressive considering the fact Gardner spent the first two months of the season at wide receiver.
Robinson's ulnar nerve injury and Russell Bellomy's disastrous performance against the Nebraska Cornhuskers forced Gardner to revert back to quarterback.
The limited time Gardner had to prepare meant offensive coordinator Al Borges could only incorporate a "starter set" of pro-style plays. Gardner will get to spend the next two years learning and dissecting Borges' complex offense. This means trouble for Michigan's opponents.
The Wolverines' offensive line will be completely rebuilt by 2014 and will significantly help Gardner.
Although talented tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will be gone, the interior portion of the line will all have been starting together for a full year. Talented redshirt freshmen Erik Magnuson and Ben Braden should be ready to fill the voids left behind by Lewan and Schofield by Gardner's redshirt senior campaign.
Incoming freshman running back Derrick Green will have adapted to the college level by his sophomore year as well.
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The only question mark for the 2014 offense will be the same one it faces in 2013. Will any of the wide receivers on the roster emerge as a consistent deep threat?
Talented tight ends Devin Funchess and Jake Butt are going to take some of the pressure off of the receiving corps. Still, Michigan needs at least one wideout capable of stretching the field and commanding double coverage.
Rising sophomore Amara Darboh appears to be the most likely candidate to fill the role. Incoming freshmen Csont'e York, Da'Mario Jones and Jaron Dukes could all make a push to be the No. 1 receiver after their first seasons in Ann Arbor.
Basically, Gardner will not have any shortage of weapons around him as long as a receiver emerges.
Schematically, the Wolverines will be operating out of the I-formation and other multiple-back sets more often. The read-option is no longer going to be Michigan's go-to play, however, it will not be removed from the playbook.
Gardner rushed for 101 yards on 47 carries last season, so the ability to tuck the ball and run is cleary there. Most of Gardner's runs will likely be on third downs or broken plays, though.
The days of relying on one dual-threat quarterback to carry an entire offense have come and gone for Michigan.
Gardner's extra season will help the Wolverines contend for national and Big Ten Conference titles in 2014, and the offense should be ranked better than No. 20 in all of college football with the weapons he will have at his disposal.
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