"I'm the quarterback of the team."
Those are fightin' words from Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, spoken at the start of spring practice, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com.
According to Baumgardner, the rising senior quarterback was a full participant in Michigan's first practice of the offseason, despite having suffered a late-season injury to his foot:
Michigan expected to enter spring practice with its most dynamic offensive player still on the mend.
Instead, Gardner surprised Michigan coach Brady Hoke and a slew of teammates Tuesday by fully participating in the team's first spring practice of 2014. Moving forward, Gardner says he expects to have no limitations and hopes to be a full participant throughout the spring's 15 practices.
Gardner was expected to be a dark-horse Heisman candidate in 2013 but struggled with accuracy and consistency issues throughout the season.
Even after an heroic, one-legged effort in the near-upset of rival Ohio State, the prevailing thought is that he'll be pushed for the starting job this offseason by Shane Morris (primarily), Russell Bellomy and Wilton Speight.
Gardner recognizes that he'll be pushed for his job in camp, but he's embracing the competition as a good thing rather than an indictment of his play. He knows it will help him get better.
"It's sometimes hard to compete with yourself and continue to push yourself when there's nobody pushing you," Gardner said, according to Baumgardner. "Now, it's a little different."
Gardner was especially bad on the road last season, low-lighted by an 11-of-23, 97-yard and two-interception performance at Connecticut in September. The then-undefeated Wolverines escaped Stoors with a 24-21 win, but the performance set the tone for a tumultuous season to come.
Gardner's foot injury—which he confirmed happened in the second quarter against Ohio State and called "probably the worst pain of my life"—kept him out of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and Morris was underwhelming in his stead. Despite showing flashes of ability and completing 63 percent of his passes, the former blue-chip recruit finished with just 196 yards on 38 attempts.
Who will start at QB next season?
You can't win this job averaging 5.16 yards per passing attempt. Michigan needs more than a checkdown robot at quarterback.
Still, Morris certainly has the talent to "unseat" Gardner, and Gardner has the ability to play wide receiver if he does. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has holes to fill all over the offense, and moving Gardner out wide might kill two birds with one stone.
As far as Gardner is concerned, though, his play this spring and fall will end that notion quickly.