When Devin Gardner lines up at the first spring workout this week, he will be missing something.
The veteran quarterback will be taking snaps without another senior in the huddle.
While new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier would like to get off to a good start this fall, the very young offensive linemen and receiving corps must become excellent students and in a hurry.
A reasonable playbook to start
“We have to evaluate the roster and look at what we can do well and maybe some things we can’t do as well as we’d like,” Nussmeier told the Detroit News. “So we have to start from a base. Maybe some of the plays we’re running the first day or two (of spring practice) won’t be the base of what we run in week three or four. But you have to start with the foundation, and we’ll go from there.”
While the coaching staff keeps harping on the idea that there’s competition at quarterback, every fan who sits in the “cheap” seats or watches with his buddies at the sports bars, knows the QB job is Gardner’s to lose.
Even Walmart Wolverines have seen Gardner pass for the most yards in a game, and he did it twice last season. First he passed for 503 yards against Indiana, then threw for 455 yards against the vaunted Buckeyes, and yes, with a broken foot.
Sure Gardner sometimes looked clumsy in the pocket last season, but 36 backbreaking sacks didn’t help his rhythm. He still completed nearly 60 percent of his passes— finishing the campaign with 21 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
No extra point
And he was still called on with Michigan trailing Ohio State 42-41, knowing the attempted two-point conversion would be a painful proposition.
With a little luck, and some better pass protection, Gardner (301 career completions) could pass Elvis Grbac (522) for third on the all-time Michigan list. Leader Chad Henne (828) and John Navarre (765) are out of reach.
“I really believe Devin’s got a lot of unscratched potential,” Nussmeier said. “We’re going to really work hard this spring and summer. He’s up here every day and he’s grinding. I really think he’ll make great progress.”
Neither the offensive line, backfield or receiving corps are blessed with experience. But defensive coordinator Greg Mattison sees nothing but good days ahead.
Sophomore, Sophomore, Sophomore
“I looked out there one day in winter conditioning and said ‘man, there’s a sophomore, sophomore, sophomore and they all played last year.’ ” Mattison said. “And they’re some good looking kids. And you don’t always say that.”
All you have to do is look. Some of the top players included in the No. 4 rated 2012 recruiting class and the No. 2 rated 2013 class include No. 4 S Dymonte Thomas, No. 1 G/C Patrick Kugler, No. 3 T/G Kyle Bosch, No. 1 CB/FS/WR Jabrill Peppers, and No. 1 RB Derrick Green.
Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke know the many hours spent on the recruiting trail are beginning to pay off. There should be vast improvement across the board this season, and if a few things go Michigan’s way, competing for the Big Ten title won’t be out of the question.
UPPERCLASS DEPTH BY CLASS OVER THE YEARS
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Joel Greer