The expectations for 2013 Michigan quarterback signee Shane Morris are certainly high, but many weren't expecting him to play much of a role in the 2013 football season. That could all change, though, and with that change should come an adjustment in expectations.
It's no longer unrealistic to say there's a chance Morris could see the field in 2013.
To be very frank, Morris seeing game action in 2013 would most likely be a worst-case scenario for Michigan. For as good as he projects to be, it takes a rare type of talent to come in and lead a team like Michigan from the quarterback position as a true freshman. Morris projects to be good, but nothing about him would suggest that he'll be that type of once-in-a-generation, transcendent quarterback. That's not to say it's impossible, but it certainly shouldn't be an expectation.
Everything changed for Morris when news broke that redshirt sophomore quarterback Russell Bellomy tore his ACL in spring practice. For all intents and purposes, Bellomy was slotted to be the backup quarterback behind Devin Gardner, and his presence on the depth chart alone would have most likely afforded Michigan the opportunity to redshirt Morris.
By taking a redshirt in 2013, Morris could have placed an extra year of separation between him and Gardner in terms of eligibility. He would have also had the whole year to practice and work with the team while (most importantly) learning the offensive system.
With Bellomy out, though, Michigan's other legitimate option not named Morris is redshirt freshman Brian Cleary, who walked on to the team (walk-on redshirt freshman quarterback Shaun Austin and walk-on redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Swieca are also on the roster, though with no game experience). To be fair to Cleary, there have been plenty of walk-ons who have defied the odds and accomplished their football dreams, but he'd be facing quite the task if Gardner were to go down with an injury, if even for just a few series.
While Gardner is a much better pocket passer than Denard Robinson, he still has the ability to get out of the pocket and be mobile, and as is the case with any mobile quarterback, that increases the chance of injury.
If Michigan were to redshirt Morris, Brady Hoke would be facing the real possibility of having to play a walk-on redshirt freshman if Gardner were to need to get off the field for any reason.
Being the quarterback of a D1 school comes with a ton of pressure, especially considering Michigan's extremely high aspirations in 2013 and beyond. Also, if I know defensive coordinators, they'd most likely bring the house on Cleary and force him to make a quick decision. For those who know the game of college football, quick decisions from young quarterbacks aren't often good decisions.
For a program that is trying to re-establish itself within the Big Ten and nationally, that's probably not the best route to take.
More than likely, Michigan fans should expect Morris to prepare to be the No. 2 guy behind Gardner.
Michigan beat writer Kyle Meinke of MLive.com and I had a conversation on Twitter speculating about whether or not that would happen. Meinke, for the most part, seems to think that Michigan would burn Morris' redshirt if they have to:
Andrew Kulha @AndrewKulha
@kmeinke yeah I agree. Would have been solo nice to get that extra year of eligibility right as the offense started to click. Oh well.2013-4-1 20:17:41
This seems to be a "have to" situation for Michigan, as I can't imagine the Wolverines entering the season without a firm backup in place. Morris may just be a freshman, but he displays all the intangibles and tools that you look for in a big-time college quarterback.
Morris can be the guy eventually, but if Michigan needs him to step up in a backup role and fill in for Gardner, he should have enough poise and talent to be able to at least hold his own. On tape, Cleary looks like a good quarterback as well, but Morris would undoubtedly be the better of the two options. Morris projects to be a star at the college level.
It would be a shame to waste that potential extra year of eligibility, but a team in Michigan's position cannot afford to be without a legitimate option at quarterback. Truthfully, Michigan cannot afford to be without a legitimate backup quarterback either.
The best case scenario for Michigan is that Gardner stays healthy for the whole season, which would mean Morris would never have to step foot on the field. If that's the case, a redshirt would apply and he'd be looking at four years of eligibility once the 2014 season begins.
But if that's not the case and Gardner does need a sub, there's a good chance we'll see Morris trot out to the quarterback position and lead the Wolverines' offense. In the process, he'd be starting his eligibility clock a season earlier than most Michigan fans would have hoped for, but on the other hand, he could end up being a big part of the Wolverines' 2013 season.
If Morris does play in 2013, expect him to be able to hold his own at the college level.
It may not happen, but either way, he's going to have to prepare like it will.