In two weeks, spring practice begins for Michigan football. Taking the field for the first time will be seven early enrollees along with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Fans eagerly await the changes that Nussmeier will bring to an offense that lacked consistent direction under previous offensive coordinator Al Borges.
But with Brady Hoke announcing that quarterback Devin Gardner “will be limited in spring practice,” questions abound about his status on the depth chart. Hoke acknowledged the uncertainty: “We’ve got a lot of competition. Now does Devin have the most experience? Yes, there’s no question.”
Nussmeier inherits a vastly different situation from what Borges came into three seasons ago.
Then, Borges was tasked with blending Denard Robinson’s running skills into a more conventional pro set. Borges also insisted on moving Robinson under center, which limited his explosiveness, effectively neutering the Michigan offense. The offense found limited success under Gardner when Robinson was injured but stagnated last season behind a patchwork offensive line.
Nussmeier begins with a clean slate—with Gardner’s rehab lingering, every quarterback on the roster is in the mix for evaluation during spring practice. Not only will Michigan have more depth at the quarterback position than at any time since Lloyd Carr retired, but Nussmeier also has the luxury of contemplating what his offense will look like when Gardner is gone.
No matter what Brady Hoke says about competition, Gardner is the de facto starting quarterback. His gutsy performance playing through a severe leg injury versus Ohio State further solidified his position as a team leader for Michigan. Hoke would have a mutiny on his hands if he placed Morris or anyone else above Gardner on the depth chart.
Besides Morris, quarterback Russell Bellomy also has returned to the playing field after missing a season because of injury, joining early enrollee Wilton Speight in competition on the depth chart. All three players will benefit if Gardner misses time during the spring.
Playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in memory, Gardner performed heroically last season even as Michigan faded, going 1-4 in November. More than any other single factor, the offensive line will determine whether Michigan competes for a Big Ten Championship or remains in the cellar next season.
If healthy, Gardner will be the starter, but if he struggles or gets injured, Doug Nussmeier will know exactly what he has waiting in the wings. Michigan is developing much-needed depth at quarterback, but a disappointing season in Ann Arbor has increased the pressure on Hoke and staff. Nussmeier wouldn’t have been brought in if otherwise.
Hoke has admitted that his staff needs to do a better job of player development, and with returning depth at quarterback, Nussmeier is now on the hook to show that he can do better than his predecessor.
Hoke's tenure in Ann Arbor depends on it.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.
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