Michigan Football Preview 2013

2013 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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QB preseason analysis: quarterbacks Starter ✪✪✪✪ Among Big Ten teams, Michigan may have the second-best starting quarterback in the conference, and redshirt junior Devin Gardner could overtake Ohio State's Braxton Miller by the end of the season. In a typical year, the thought of replacing a QB with 36 starts would prove quite an undertaking, lowering expectations. However, Gardner is more experienced than most first-year starters and should improve quickly on his performance from the final five games, providing the elite level of play U-M hasn't had since Chad Henne (2004-07). Depth ✪ Few programs nationally are in as dire a situation as the Maize and Blue, who will rely on either a redshirt freshman walk-on or a true freshman to back up its starter. Neither scenario is very appealing, and while Shane Morris may possess more natural talent, he probably would not be ready in the first few games. Brian Cleary struggled in his first moment under the lights, at U-M's spring game, and if either reserve is needed for more than a play here or there, especially in a big game, Michigan will likely falter. X-Factor Morris is the X-factor — how quickly can he learn, and become capable of running, the offense if needed. Over the past 40 years, only 11 true freshman signal-callers have seen the field for the Wolverines, with Rick Leach (1975), Henne (2004) and Tate Forcier (2009) earning starting jobs. All three, surprisingly, excelled, while in a few instances U-M has turned to rookies to hold the No. 2 posts (Drew Henson in 1998, Ryan Mallett in 2007 and Denard Robinson in 2009). Mallett went 3-0 in relief of an ailing Henne, and it's possible Morris could also succeed, but only if he progresses rapidly. Overall ✪✪✪ Michigan's quarterback production will hinge almost exclusively on Gardner's performance, and more importantly, whether he starts and finishes all 12 games on the schedule. If he can avoid serious or lingering injury, the Wolverines should put forth one of the best efforts in the country. If he's out, though, for any period of time, U-M's potential will take a massive hit, with Big Ten-title aspirations largely falling apart. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars. Gardner's 159 pass attempts are the most by a QB preparing for his first opening-day start since Brian Griese became the full-time No. 1 in 1997 and had already posted 299 attempts. "He doesn't really have a ceiling," Borges said. "He's capable of doing whatever he wants. He could put up 3,000 yards, throw for 30 touchdowns, rush for 500 yards. This kid has an incredible skill set." The 6-4, 210-pound Gardner had appeared in eight games in 201011 prior to taking over as quarterback for the final five contests last year (following a Denard Robinson injury), but he had faced only one situation with the game on the line; he had come in for an injured Robinson in the third quarter with a 14-0 lead at Illinois in 2011 and proceeded to direct Michigan to a 31-14 victory. After his five-game stint a year ago, in which he went 3-2, completing 58.5 percent of his passes for 1,219 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, Gardner is a known commodity and will not need a month warm-up before the Big Ten campaign commences Oct. 5. "The thing we know about him is that he has tremendous game composure, and he's a natural leader," Borges said. "His first start last year, we weren't very good. In that first quarter against Minnesota, we were bad. And you wondered, how would he handle that? When I talked to him on the phone, would he sound rattled? "But that kid didn't get rattled. If he was, then he did a great job of acting. He was completely composed in every game. "I didn't know how would he handle the pressure of the game, but he passed with flying colors, and that's huge. We know what we can expect and what we can demand from that position the moment we start preseason camp. There won't be a period with training wheels. We're just going to go." Devin Gardner Is An Experienced First-Time Permanent Starter When Devin Gardner takes the field Aug. 31 against Central Michigan, he will be much more experienced than most quarterbacks taking over the permanent starting role. With four starts already in his career, plus extensive action in 2011, the redshirt junior has attempted 159 passes, completing 93 (58.5 percent). Only one signal-caller in the past 50 years began his full-time starting career more accomplished than Gardner — Brian Griese. Filling in for an injured Scott Dreisbach in both 1995 and 1996, Griese started 10 games and appeared in 16 total, throwing 299 passes and completing 162 (54.2 percent). He won the job coming out of fall camp in 1997, starting his first season opener against Colorado, and his experience paid off; he con- Most Career Pass Attempts By A First-Time Permanent Starter Quarterback Brian Griese Devin Gardner Drew Henson Todd Collins Elvis Grbac Dick Vidmer Michael Taylor Denard Robinson Don Moorhead Tom Brady YearAtt. 1997 299 2013 159 2000137 1993 127 1990 116 1966 66 1988 32 2010 31 1969 25 1998 20 Drew Henson had already jockeyed for playing time with Tom Brady in 1998 and 1999 before becoming U-M's starter in 2000. photo by per kjeldsen nected on 75.0 percent of his 28 attempts that day in leading U-M to a 27-3 win over the eighth-ranked Buffaloes. Three other quarterbacks had attempted at least 100 career passes before taking over as the full-time starter — Drew Henson, Todd Collins and Elvis Grbac. Henson jockeyed for playing time with Tom Brady in 1998 and 1999, throwing 137 times, and would be Michigan's starter in 2000 (after 80  ■  The Wolverine 2013 Football Preview missing three games due to injury). Collins saw regular reps as a backup to Grbac in 1991 and then started twice in place of an injured Grbac in 1992, completing 82 of 127 attempts (64.6 percent) before seizing the No. 1 job in 1993. Finally, Grbac started four games in his redshirt freshman campaign in 1989 for an ineffective Michael Taylor, attempting 116 passes. A year later, he was the opening-day starter.

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