Michigan Wolverines 2014 QB Fall Practice Preview: Depth Chart and Analysis

Phil Callihan@umgoblogContributor IJuly 7, 2014

Devin Gardner
Devin GardnerUSA TODAY Sports

Devin Gardner enters fall practice as Michigan’s presumptive starter at quarterback. While signs point to him leading the team as it tries to bounce back from a disappointing 7-6 record, there are some nagging doubts about whether Gardner’s position on the top of the depth chart is completely solid.

Gardner is being pressed by a talented group of players who may be a better fit for coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s offense. He has been complimentary of Gardner, but as the team prepares to open fall camp, all eyes will be fixed on the Michigan offense that is being retooled after the departure of former offensive coordinator Al Borges.

Nussmeier has been tasked with revitalizing the Michigan running game that last season relied on Gardner’s scrambling ability. With running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith locked and loaded for the upcoming season and transfer Ty Isaac waiting for word of eligibility from the NCAA, the running game appears be significantly upgraded.

Gardner will need to prove that he can drive the offense—allowing others to run the ball, passing to a gaggle of unproven receivers and playing behind an offensive line that is attempting to rally from last season’s epic failure as a position group.

Devin Gardner

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Senior Devin Gardner (6’4”, 218 lbs) is the starting quarterback—for now. Despite tallying impressive statistics last season, there are reasons to question whether he is the best quarterback for Nussmeier’s offense.

Devin Gardner QB Statistics
'13 Season3452081160.329602116548311

Gardner’s strengths include a wealth of experience under what will be his third offensive system at Michigan and a toughness that he exhibited playing hurt last season versus Ohio State.

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 30: Quarterback Devin Gardner #98 of the Michigan Wolverines looks to pass against the Ohio State Buckeyes during a game at Michigan Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Unfortunately, that injury begs the question whether he’s fully recovered, after spending nearly two months of the offseason on crutches. His performance during the team’s public spring practice was unspectacular.

Gardner sparked last season’s attack with his legs, while the offense this season will feature the team’s running backs. His ability to move in the pocket could be valuable since the offensive line is again expected to be weak this season.

“Coach Nussmeier is really aggressive,” said Gardner following practice earlier this spring. “He demands perfection and nothing less.”

Can Gardner be accurate enough as a passer (last season 60.3%, career 59.7%) to run this offense?

That’s the question that will determine how long he remains atop the quarterback depth chart. He has a history of misreading coverages and throwing easy interceptions. Gardner will need to cut back on the turnovers while breaking in a number of new receivers. If he struggles, Nussmeier may be tempted go with a younger quarterback by the start of the Big Ten season.

Shane Morris

Sophomore Shane Morris (6’3”, 202 lbs) was pressed into service last season after Gardner’s injury. He gained valuable experience as Michigan prepared for its bowl game in which he made the sole start of his young career.

Shane Morris QB Statistics

Shane Morris
Shane MorrisTony Ding/Associated Press

Morris was impressive under difficult circumstances, and he entered spring practice pressing Gardner for the starting quarterback position.

“Everyday is a competition,” said Morris of his sparring with Gardner during spring practice. “Everyday we compete to be the number one quarterback.”

Morris has a strong arm and will be ready off the bench to replace Gardner if he falters.

Wilton Speight

Freshman Wilton Speight (6’6”, 230 lbs) emerged as an intriguing talent during spring practice. An early enrollee, he impressed Devin Gardner, “…Wilton has game, he can play…he’s definitely a threat for Shane and I,” despite being an unheralded three-star recruit

Speight is the wild card in the quarterback competition. He doesn’t have the emotional baggage of Gardner and has just as much time working with Nussmeier as Morris.

Russell Bellomy

There was a time when junior Russell Bellomy (6’3”, 210 lbs) was on track to compete for the starting position at quarterback.

Russell Bellomy's QB Statistics

Russell Bellomy
Russell BellomyNati Harnik/Associated Press

But that was before a disastrous 2012 appearance versus Nebraska and before missing last season because of an ACL injury. The good news is that he recovered in time to practice for last season’s bowl game. Gardner’s injury freed up more repetitions for both Morris and Bellomy.

Bellomy is on the edge of the quarterback battle, but he’s overcome adversity and is still competing for a place on the depth chart.

All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department website.

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.