The biggest news out of Michigan football this week came when Brady Hoke confirmed that fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner would be the starter for the team’s first game.
“I’d would expect him to start on the 30th,” said Hoke while detailing how Gardner has separated himself from his competition during fall camp. “His communication skills throughout, how the offense is run, his identification of the different reads that he has either in the run or the pass game has grown a ton.”
Earlier in the week offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier also praised Gardner’s dedication to learning the new offense.
“[Devin] understands…the plays we’re calling—was it built to be an explosive or efficient play,” said Nussmeier. “He’s really done a good job of spending extra time getting to know those types of things.”
Gardner provides Michigan its best chance to win this season. His return to the top of depth chart after recovering from last season’s leg injury locks down a critical question for the offense.
Although Hoke announced that De’Veon Smith had seized the top position on the depth chart, the competition is still extremely tight.
“We’d love to get to one guy for sure, but right now we’re just not there yet,” said Hoke. “All four, five if you want to count Ty [Isaac], have done some really good things and they’ve all made bonehead mistakes.”
The surprising news was that Drake Johnson had surpassed Derrick Green for second position on the depth chart. Hoke was effusive in his praise for Johnson, who missed last season with an ACL injury
“Drake is a guy who really works diligently about everything…you know you’re going to get execution from him,” said Hoke. “As a running back he picked up things very well within the offense, he catches the ball in the backfield [and] has very good acceleration, he’s got a chance to take it all the way because of his speed…He’s really just done a tremendous job.”
The tight competition plays into offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s expectations for the position.
“We’re gonna play a number of guys,“ said Nussmeier. “We’re not gonna be a one-back team.”
Jabrill Peppers Watch
Hoke announced that top defensive recruit Jabrill Peppers had started taking reps at cornerback this week.
“Jabrill at the nickel has done a nice job,” said Hoke. “Jabrill moved out to some corner today, he’s kind of got his feet wet and knows what’s going on at nickel.”
In addition to playing cornerback Peppers has been practicing returning kicks on special teams.
Two weeks out from the season opener, Hoke reluctantly revealed the leaders to start on the offensive line.
For now it’s Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson at the guards, Mason Cole and Kyle Kalis at the tackles and Jack Miller at center. Kyle Bosch (sore back) and Graham Glasgow (suspended for the first game) are also in the running for reps.
Hoke continues to praise the progress made by true freshman Mason Cole.
“He’s smart, [and] he works really hard,” said Hoke. “He doesn’t back down from anything or anybody.”
Doug Nussmeier acknowledged the possibility that Cole might crack the starting lineup, saying, “Performance has no age tied to it.”
Offensive Scouting Report
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison offered his assessment of Michigan’s new offensive under Nussmeier.
“They’re going to come out every day and knock you off the ball,” said Mattison. “We have great competition in practice.”
Nussmeier refused to share his statistical goals for the offense but declared, “We want to be physical, we want to be explosive.”
Brady Hoke is standing by his player.
Despite the release of a video showing Csont’e York allegedly assaulting another man and breaking his jaw, Hoke insists that “York is still part of the program.”
"He's a guy who has been a part of this team, and we're going to go through the process."
Tight end Jake Butt (ACL) has not been cleared to return to practice yet. Hoke dismissed conjecture that Butt might return by the Notre Dame game.
Delano Hill (no contact) is still recovering from a broken jaw but is expected to be back before the team starts Big Ten play.
Offensive lineman Kyle Kalis (sore back) and wide receiver Devin Funchess were held out of the team’s Wednesday scrimmage as a precaution but are expected to be available for the team’s Saturday night scrimmage
Wide receiver Drake Harris is currently out due to a hamstring injury.
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.