When Michigan coach Brady Hoke hired Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to the same position last month, it could have been viewed as a lateral move.
It also could have been viewed as a high-risk/high-reward move.
Hoke is entering an important Year 4 with the Wolverines. After an 11-win season in 2011, including a Sugar Bowl victory, Michigan has gone 8-5 and 7-6. Additionally, the offense sputtered under former O-coordinator Al Borges.
While saying Nussmeier is entering a potential one-and-done year in Ann Arbor is on the dramatic side, the offense, ranked 87th in the country last season, needs a jolt. Nussmeier proved he was capable of doing that in his two seasons with the Tide. In 2012, Alabama set a school record for total offense and total points in a season.
At Michigan, that jolt starts at quarterback with Devin Gardner and Shane Morris. Gardner, the veteran starter, is coming off a foot injury that sidelined him for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Morris, who filled in for Gardner in that game, clearly has a great arm and upside, but little experience.
Here's what Nussmeier said about Morris last week via Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:
Shane, really, is a very talented young man and when you play a young player like that, the thing you're looking for when you put a player in a game like that 'is the game too big, is the moment too big,' and it wasn't, he performed. Now, obviously there's a lot of things he would have liked to have done better, but that's with any player in any game.
Nussmeier added that, at this point, the primary goal is evaluating every position, not about shaping the depth chart.
"We're going to evaluate everything, just like every other position on our offense," Nussmeier said. "We want to create competition, we want guys to go out and compete."
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Nussmeier hasn't divulged too many details about what he's looking for out of a quarterback this spring, instead saying it's his job to make sure each player grows, and each player is put in a position to display his strengths if called upon in a game.
As far as quarterback rotations go, Hoke said earlier in the week that Gardner and Morris were both getting reps with the first string, but Russell Bellomy and Wilton Speight were as well.
The open competition thing? It's standard operating procedure for the most part. The coaches may have a lean on which quarterback is the favorite—Gardner wasn't shy by claiming "I'm the quarterback" to reporters—but there's no harm in putting everyone side by side.
Even if that means the competition goes beyond spring practices.
That wouldn't necessarily be a sign that no quarterback has separated himself from the pack. The Wolverines need results on offense and quickly. Gardner shouldn't get an automatic edge just because he's been around longer, just as Morris shouldn't get the nod because of his potential.
Michigan can't afford to settle, just as it can't afford a lot of time for development.
Hoke and Nussmeier have to go with whomever gives the team the best chance to win immediately. As simplistic as that sounds, it could be something that isn't decided until August.
Or, the picture may paint itself sooner. Maybe it is Gardner's job to lose. In that case, the coaches are right to push him. Competition is designed to make everyone better and perform with a greater sense of urgency.
After all, Michigan's coaches are doing everything with a greater sense of urgency too. Their jobs may ultimately rely on it.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
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