A quarterback battle is brewing in Ann Arbor.
A surprise contender has emerged to compete at quarterback with Devin Gardner and Shane Morris.
Gardner revealed he’s not only sharing first-team reps with Morris but freshman Wilton Speight as well.
“It’s a competition between me, Shane and Wilton. It’s going great, everybody is fiercely competing,” said Gardner. “Wilton has game, he can play…he’s definitely a threat for Shane and I.”
Speight isn’t shying away from the competition, “Coach made it very clear that it’s anybody’s job.”
Gardner’s performance last season makes him the presumptive starter but in the wake of Michigan's 7-6 campaign and the dismissal of offensive coordinator Al Borges, he’s being forced to prove himself in the new offense.
Besides shaking up the quarterback rotation, new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has amped up the pace of the Michigan offense.
“Coach Nussmeier is really aggressive,” said Gardner. “He demands perfection and nothing less.”
Sophomore quarterback Morris, who started in Michigan’s bowl game in Gardner’s absence, also acknowledged the difference between Nussemeier and his predecessor. “Coach Nuss is lot more in your face—very demanding. It helps me get better, it definitely helps all of us.”
Nussmeier’s desire to encourage quarterback competition may be more than a standard coaching tactic to keep his starter motivated while providing a glimmer of hope to players further down the depth chart.
Gardner still isn’t completely recovered from a foot injury he experienced nearly four months ago in Michigan’s regular season finale, a 42-41 loss to rival Ohio State. While he surprised coaches and players by fully participating in the first day of spring practice, Gardner is avoiding some drills that would put extra stress on his foot and needs to regain speed when running the ball.
Gardner expects to be fully recovered by fall but finds himself in a dogfight with both Morris and Speight.
Morris isn’t backing down from the opportunity to win the starting job. After rising to the top of the depth chart for bowl preparations, he’s not going to give up without a fight.
“Every day is a competition…every day we compete to be the No. 1 quarterback,“ said Morris. When questioned about the possibility of beating out Gardner he answered without hesitation, “That’s what an open competition is.”
Speight doesn’t sound intimidated either.
“I’m trying to be better than Devin,” said Speight. “Every little move he makes I’m watching and taking mental notes and making sure that I do the things he does well and I don’t do things he messes up on.”
Gardner admitted it was important for him to be ready when spring practice began several weeks ago. The combination of a new offense and increased competition may be just the push he needs to help Michigan compete for a Big Ten championship next season.
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.