Last season, Devin Gardner did everything he could to lead Michigan to victory despite being saddled with questionable game plans while playing behind a ramshackle offensive line.
His performance versus Ohio State in the home finale was epic—rallying his team against a heavily favored rival but falling short in the final minute. Gardner took every snap despite breaking his foot in the second half, an injury that put him on crutches for more than a month.
His statistics and gutsy performance in a rivalry game should have solidified his position as starting quarterback for this season, but a disappointing 7-6 record resulted in the dismissal of offensive coordinator Al Borges. Gardner’s lingering injury and uncertainty about his fit with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier hinted at the possibility of a looming quarterback battle during spring practice.
Gardner moved to squelch speculation about his health by participating fully when Michigan began spring practice—much to the surprise of Brady Hoke. Earlier, Hoke had stated the Gardner’s rehab would limit his participation during the spring, but he was clearly pleased at Gardner’s surprise performance.
“He was live, we’re out there in shorts and helmets, but he looked great," said Hoke in a press conference on mgoblue.com. "Believe me, I was as much surprised how he went as anybody.”
Gardner speaking in an interview posted on mgoblue.com was happy to be back in pads after being sidelined for nearly three months.
“It felt amazing for all the hard work I’ve been doing,” Gardner said. “It was refreshing… to get a chance to put a helmet on again.”
His performance not only showed that his foot injury is in the past, but allowed him to work with new offensive coordinator Nussmeier as he took the field for the first time since being hired to overhaul the Michigan offense.
“It was a new style of practice,” Gardner said. ”I’m loving him (Nussmeier) so far. I love the way he coaches.”
Gardner is doing everything he can to solidify his position as starting quarterback. There was a time earlier in his career when he was the hotshot prospect trying dislodge the presumed starter. While backing up Denard Robinson, Gardner was moved to receiver for the good of the team. A move that was hastily reversed when Robinson was injured.
It’s been a long time since Michigan has had depth at the quarterback position. Shane Morris has the talent to lead the Michigan offense and his bowl performance showed that he has the tools to compete but Gardner has no intentions of making way for anyone.
Prior to last season, Gardner thought Michigan would win every game, an ambitious goal for a player who had only started a handful of games. Last season’s 7-6 record stung Gardner. You could see the way he hung his head after losses. His aggressive rehab and urgency to get back on the field proved he has no intention of repeating last season’s disappointment.
He has scores to settle with rivals Michigan State and Ohio State and this season is his final opportunity to be the quarterback who leads Michigan back to national prominence.
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.