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Michigan Football: Why WRs Need Devin Gardner to Stay in the Pocket

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Michigan Football: Why WRs Need Devin Gardner to Stay in the Pocket
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Stability in the pocket could lead to success for Devin Gardner and Michigan's WRs.

Michigan's wide receivers have the ability to be part of a potent, fast-moving offense. 

The only thing that's keeping them from being a key part to victory each Saturday is their quarterback, Devin Gardner, an interception-prone redshirt junior who's in the midst of his first season as starter. 

If Gardner, who is 8-3 as the No. 1, evolves into a pocket-passer with confidence, players such as Devin Funchess, Drew Dileo, Jehu Chesson and Jeremy Gallon will reap the benefits.

Funchess certainly has done so during recent weeks with 151- and 112-yard games 

More of that could be on the horizon. 

Would throwing from the pocket help Gardner and the WRs?

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But some would argue that Gardner isn't a pocket-passer. Some would argue that Team 134 (5-1, 1-1) would be more efficient while running the spread offense, allowing for Gardner to make things happen on his feet rather than with his arm. 

Those are fair assessments. But they're not necessarily correct. 

Take Denard Robinson, for example.

Shoelace, who is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, was a mobile quarterback with nothing more to offer than a hot set of wheels and an average arm.

The speedster was incredibly dangerous on the move, but his so-so arm was actually effective while he was under center or throwing from the pocket. 

In 2012, ESPN's Michael Rothstein put to bed the misnomer that Robinson couldn't throw like a traditional pro-styler. His findings proved that Robinson got the job done while staying put. In turn, Michigan's receivers caught nearly 70 percent of his passes. 

Success from the pocket is possible
Stat Shotgun Under center
Comp./Att. 125/247 42/62
Pct. 50.6 67.7
YPA 8 9.7
TD/INT 11/17 12/1

ESPN's Michael Rothstein

Sure, things are a little different for Gardner than they were for Robinson.

For starters, Gardner doesn't have half the line—literally—that Robinson had. From left guard to right guard, Michigan has experimented with inexperienced rookies this fall, and that's disrupted flow and thrown Gardner for a loop. 

But he has options.

Gallon has improved. He was essentially put on display during the final five games of 2012. Connecting with great success should be easy for him and Gardner, right? 

Chesson, a 6'3" redshirt freshman, is a viable downfield option. He has the height, speed and athleticism that would be best utilized by an accurate-throwing pocket passer. 

Hey, if Robinson could do it, Gardner shouldn't have an issue. That's the prevailing theory at this point. With similar numbers to compare, the main difference between Robinson and Gardner is arm strength.

Gardner has it, Robinson didn't. 

A clear way to gain understanding of the benefits of pocket passing is to observe.

Far from over-the-top excellent, Gardner was fairly effective during his team's 33-28 Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina. He completed 18 of 36 passes for 214 yards, three touchdowns and one pick. 

Again, those aren't jump-off-the-paper numbers, but the glaring statistic is a 3-1 touchdown to interception ratio.

The following image is a screen grab pulled from a video posted by YouTube user Justis Mosqueda, who used footage from ESPN. The graphics were added to illustrate a point: Gardner should stay in the pocket. 

Photo play-by-play: While in the shotgun, Gardner was forced out of the pocket due to the Gamecocks rush. 

Gardner in the gun vs. SC (Screen grab via YouTube user Justis Mosqueda)

 

Photo play-by-play: Scrambling, Gardner decided to make an ill-advised throw to the middle of the field, which was quickly intercepted. Luckily for Michigan, it was his only pick of the game. 

The shaded area represents the pocket that Gardner was flushed from. You know the rest. (Screen grab via YouTube user Justis Mosqueda)

 

Benefits for WR

Some of Michigan's top aerial plays this season have been made due to Gardner's improvisational skills and Funchess' leaping ability and set of hands. 

Keeping him bottled up in the pocket 100 percent of the time would be illogical, obviously. Well, that and next to impossible. He has a runner's instincts. 

And Funchess probably wouldn't like that too much. 

Nonetheless, the following table highlights the positives of having a pocket passing quarterback based on each receiver's strengths. 

Pocket full of change
WR Strength Catch potential per game Signature play
Drew Dileo Elusiveness 5 Dump-off in traffic
Devin Funchess Size Whenever thrown to Anything
Jeremy Gallon Speed, hands 8 Quick strikes from pocket
Jehu Chesson Speed, vertical 5 Deep ball

Observational skills

 

Photo play-by-play: Gardner wasn't under center, but he chose to plant his feet and throw from the pocket during this play. 

With feet planted, Gardner makes a great throw from the pocket to Gallon (Screen grab via YouTube user Justis Mosqueda).

 

Photo play-by-play: Gardner recognized that Gallon was open and made a great throw from the pocket. 

Pocket passing has its benefits (Screen grab via YouTube user Justis Mosqueda)

Michigan's offensive line is the root of several issues, but so is Gardner's knack for topsy-turvy Saturdays. In order for Gardner to be a more effective quarterback, his line must strengthen and allow time for him to make reads and accurate throws. 

That, of course, is easier said than done.

The line can't protect for handoffs, let alone for three to four seconds while Gardner reads the field. Instability up front has caused Michigan's running game to go on vacation. Gardner has been forced to run—he leads the team with 439 rushing yardsand that's going to lead to disaster. 

However, with a more concentrated effort on the part of Gardner and offensive coordinator Al Borges, Michigan's wide receivers can electrify the scoreboard. 

They just need Gardner to stay on his feet and make steady throws. 

Again, easier said than done. But it's not impossible. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

 

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