There’s no doubt that Devin Gardner will be a key asset to the Michigan Wolverines football program in 2014.
However, it should be at wide receiver—not quarterback.
It's been no secret that head coach Brady Hoke prefers running a pro-style offense. Bringing in former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to replace Al Borges at the same position, via ESPN's Chantel Jennings, is a large step towards realizing that goal.
Unfortunately, Gardner just hasn’t shown he can succeed in that kind of offense. His 60.3 percent completion rate and 146.1 passer rating proves as much.
Meanwhile, Michigan has Shane Morris—a prototypical pro-style quarterback—sitting in the wings.
A former 4-star prospect in the Class of 2013, Morris looked solid in his first collegiate start against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He threw for 196 yards and an interception on 24-of-38 passing while rushing for another 43 yards.
With the Nussmeier hire suggesting the Wolverines are hitting the reset button on the offense, it begs the question: Why not invest now in the future of Morris—a sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining—instead of riding out Gardner’s senior season and beginning all over again at the start of 2015?
It’s really not a bad idea at all.
With a full offseason of first-team reps, there’s no doubt Nussmeier can mold Morris into the quarterback Hoke has always dreamed of having. Just take a look at the work he accomplished with Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron during his first year running the offense in Tuscaloosa:
Furthermore, Michigan could use all the help it could get at wide receiver. The team lost five of its eight leading receivers, including pacesetter Jeremy Gallon (89 REC, 1,373 YDS, 9 TD).
Not to mention, other than Gallon, only tight end Devin Funchess finished with at least 250 receiving yards and found the end zone more than twice.
The loss of production at the position is scary:
|2013 Team Totals||237||3,221||21|
It was only two seasons ago when Gardner lined up as a receiver for the Wolverines. Through the team’s first eight games of the 2012 season, he hauled in 16 catches for 266 yards and four touchdowns.
Gardner ranked second on the team in receiving yards and first in touchdowns at that point.
Using his 6-foot-4 frame and explosiveness, the Detroit, Mich., native blew past defenders. He was quickly making Hoke look like a genius.
However, the experiment had to be cut short prematurely when starting quarterback Denard Robinson went down with an injury.
Back then, the position change was merely a temporary stopgap. Robinson—a senior—was the obvious starter, but Hoke still wanted to utilize Gardner’s athletic ability any way he could.
Now, with Michigan facing a fork in the road in terms of the program's future, it might be time for Gardner to return to wide receiver.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about kicking Gardner to the curb.
Rather, it’s about evaluating his talent and reassigning him to the position on the field where he can have a much larger impact on the team.
Gardner has already showcased his ability to burn opposing cornerbacks and make big plays. Who’s to say he can’t do it again?
Michigan is looking to turn the chapter on a very disappointing last couple of years.
What better time than the present to make that change?
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com unless otherwise noted.