this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
devin gardner wide receiver possibility
Eric Upchurch. Upchurch's spring gallery.
The Spring Game came and went and I don't think it was just me: this one seemed flat in comparison to previous editions. The last time Michigan had a spring game so devoid of intrigue it was 2007, when senior versions of Hart and Henne ruled on offense and Lloyd Carr was the coach. Carr often seemed like he'd prefer it if his team played in front of no one, and this tendency was most frequently expressed at spring games. 2007 was boring and that was the way of things: boring.
- 2008: closed to the public thanks to Michigan Stadium construction, we still get our first glimpses at the spread offense… and our doom. The sense of the willies you got reading descriptions of what went on (you dismissed it as meaningless spring game stuff because you didn't want to ruin your summer as well as your fall) was the first indicator of what we were in for. The turnover party did not stop until the season did.
- 2009: Tate Forcier's coming out party. Program savior gets a run out for the first time as an early enrollee, performs brilliantly, everyone high-fives. Ace puts together Weapon of Choice video that is then recut into Weapon of Choice w/ Christopher Walken video. Youtube now thinks this video is set to Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend," which is Skynet-level commentary on how that Forcier thing worked out.
- 2010: Denard Robinson's coming out party. Program savior gets a run out for not quite the first time but definitely the first one in which he looks like a plausible quarterback, performs brilliantly, everyone high-fives. Afterwards mgovideo published cutups of all three QBs' snaps so people could engage in Lincoln-Douglass debates about who should be the starter.
- 2011: Will Al Borges stuff Denard Robinson into a pro-style offense designed for the exact opposite sort of quarterback? Answer: argh, yes. Spring game spawns offseason-long running debate about whether it's pure folly to move away from all shotgun, all the time. Borges participates in internal conflict version of that debate and generally sides with the shotgun crew, except against Iowa, for which we all pay dearly.
The past four years the spring game has been an important data dump that has indicated quite a lot of things about Michigan's season to come. Doom in 2008. Better quarterbacking the next couple years but with a fatal flaw: Forcier and Robinson's blowout performances came against Michigan's defense, which merely blew. Last year displayed to all how bad an idea it was to go under center a majority of the time.
This year Michigan spent about the same number of snaps as last year in the spread, ran Denard out there for one series, gave the established top tailback a few carries, and the whole thing was… just there, flopping around being dull and stuff.
Maybe this opinion is influenced by the fact that I wasn't there, but I don't think so. The things we think we found out are generally less exciting than "introducing DENARD ROBINSON!" and less important than the possibility we might totally screw him up. This is a sign of health in a program. It just makes this post a little less throbbingly important than it has been recently.
Anyway, there were some things we did learn…
DonkeyPuncher231 (please change that username someday, dear DP) has spliced together just about the whole thing:
The official site put out a highlight video about half that length:
An unofficial box score from AnnArbor.com. Notables:
- Gardner two of seven with an INT and 36 yards passing.
- Bellomy six of nine but the same yardage as Gardner.
- Gardner 9 rushes for 41 yards.
- Toussaint five for 39.
- Rawls 9 for 39.
- Hayes and Smith had one yard between them on 11 carries.
- "Unknown" caught two balls for 20 yards. Tacopants?
That data in hand, let's talk turkey.
Backup Quarterback Derby? I've Never Heard Of Such A Thing
Michigan's coaches took the Colonel Tressel approach to the obvious #1 storyline of the day, Russell Bellomy looking a lot better than Devin Gardner. Bellomy praise was ladled out but when a reporter asked point-blank who the #2 guy was, Hoke's response:
If you were to name a No. 2 quarterback today, who would it be?
“Well, it’s Devin.”
I see nossing. I do not comment on Devin Gardner throwing multiple five-yard dumpoffs in a manner that John Shurna thinks is unusual and Northwestern's perpetual 6'9" euro center who takes threes despite never making any of them thinks is inaccurate. Neither do I comment on Gardner throwing an interception that, while a pretty good play by one Blake Countess, was also very late.
Borges's Bellomy praise was specifically parceled out after a section of Gardner hype:
You gave most of the snaps to Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy today …
“Yeah, that’s what we were trying to develop. We decided before we came in that we were only going to play Denard just a little tiny bit. We wanted to see these other kids.”
Thoughts on their springs overall?
“Yeah I think Devin in particular has had an outstanding spring. He’s really done some very nice things and has developed in the position more and more. Needs more time in situations like this where there’s a lot of people watching and the pressure’s on and all that, but he has really done a nice job. And Russ -- I said it last week and the week before -- Russ has been steady and solid and [when] guys get open he hits them. He makes very few mistakes. He’s just one of those kinds of guys. He too is very athletic and can get himself out of some messes. He’s a solid guy.
If Gardner's been really good and Bellomy uninspiring but solid and mistake-light throughout the spring, only one of these traits came through on Saturday.
Twitter took the evidence on hand, considered it carefully, and wrote out a PhD thesis about how Gardner was terrible forever and Bellomy should be the backup quarterback as Gardner became LarryJustin FitzeraldBlackmon. And, yea, because twitter always has the most considered opinions these were not immediately regretted in the morning and… actually, hold that twitter sarcasm for one twitter moment.
Do we of the twitter hivemind regret that? Let's consider the evidence. Last year Gardner got into various games and threw 23 passes. He was 11 of 23 for 176 yards (7.6 YPA), one touchdown, and one INT. There was also this:
The defense would like to add this:
That's not much to go on. Let's make our data big, at least insofar as it can be made so.
In three consecutive spring games he's looked bad. You may remember Jake Ryan bursting onto the scene last year with a pick six thrown directly at his dome by Gardner. Yeah. Stuff on Gardner from the last spring game post:
As per usual, many events from the spring game are in the eye of the beholder. Is Devin Gardner's inability to find anyone open an indictment of him, an indictment of the second-team wide receivers, or… uh… like… people being covered? I know that latter seems improbable but I have seen football games in which this has happened. …
Unfortunately, there was a lot that was unambiguously bad, most of it from the quarterbacks: interceptions whistled yards over the intended receiver's head or thrown directly at linebackers, a Mallett-like plague of dropped snaps, offsides calls, etc. The general impression was more 2008 than 2010. … The QBs sucked on their own. …
Devin Gardner was also inaccurate in drills. They have this dig route where a slot receiver works to the seam then cuts his route off 15 yards downfield and Gardner was consistently missing it.
Robinson went out and did okay for himself after that business, minimizing its importance in our attempts to judge him. For Gardner it remains a big chunk of the time we've gotten to see him.
Here's the video of the year previous:
A summary of that from the immediate aftermath:
Devin Gardner looked raw as hell, fumbling snaps, scrambling into trouble, and reverting to that ugly shotput motion whenever he was forced to throw on the run. He looked like a freshman, which is okay because he is a freshman. However, the torrent of spring hype that suggested Gardner would probably not redshirt because he would be Michigan's best quarterback by UConn… eh, not so much. Maybe it was just a bad day. Even if it was an off day, Robinson showed enough to relegate Gardner to the bench for the first couple games and hopefully his whole freshman year.
Gardner did show the his deep touch on a third and long seam to Odoms that was laid in perfectly. Odoms dropped it.
Gardner got safetied and intercepted on the same play and still probably had a better overall outing than he did yesterday.
So. This is our oeuvre. Now consider Michigan's situation:
- They didn't even attempt a long pass yesterday, presumably because they were all covered. After tight end, wide receiver is the position on offense that could most use an instant talent infusion.
- Most of the unambiguously good things Gardner did yesterday involved his legs. That scamper down the sideline… good lord y'all. It's not a big stretch to declare him the best athlete on the team outside of Denard, and given that size and wingspan he could be pushing close to #16.
- Bellomy looks like a competent game manager should the need arise.
- Given Robinson's previous two seasons at QB, the need almost certainly will arise.
- Moving Gardner away from quarterback gives Michigan exactly two QBs this year and next and means either a true freshman or low-profile redshirt sophomore starts for M in 2013.
What do you do with that? Hell if I know. If you still had Forcier around and recruited a 2012 quarterback I would be at the post office right now watching Hoke mail a bow-clad Gardner* to Jeff Hecklinski. If there were enough of us and a fiddle we'd probably be singing Hava Nagila and dancing.
*[He's also wearing a full uniform, pervs.]
In Michigan's current situation, moving Gardner is asking for this interlude in game nine:
MCDONAUGH: Michigan's quarterback is now Jack Kennedy. Ask not what your team can do for you, Jack, amirite?
MILLEN: He looks really, really sweaty.
MCDONAUGH: Astute observation, Matt. Jack Kennedy is soaked in a bodily fluid we dearly hope is sweat.
MILLEN: Someone should get him an IV. I… what is that? That can't be healthy.
MCDONAUGH: Jack Kennedy is leaving a trail of viscous material behind him that must be a slurry of sweat and pure, distilled fear. Here's the snap. Kennedy hands off from the I-form… Vincent Smith with a one-yard loss.
MILLEN: Can all that fluid really be coming out of his body?
MCDONAUGH: Take it from my uncle Morty: all that and more. Vincent Smith with a one-yard loss.
MILLEN: How can he even hold on to the ball?
MCDONAUGH: I have no idea. This series of one-yard losses may be the most heroic in football history. Vincent Smith tackled for a loss of one.
MILLEN: Just look at him not fumble that snap despite having lost half his body weight in the past six minutes.
MCDONAUGH: It's kind of beautiful.
MILLEN: For spacious skies. For aglumb waves of grain. For purple mounted mohair above the fruit-tossed Spain. AMERICAAAAAAA—
MCDONAUGH: Hagerup in to punt.
MILLEN: –AMERICAAAAAAAA, GOD SPED HIS FACE ON THEEEEEE. AND CROWN THY HOOD WITH BROTHERGOOD FROM PEA TO SHINGLING PEA.
MCDONAUGH: Inspiring stuff from Ann Arbor. Michigan has six yards of offense at the half. We'll be back after this commercial break.
SCENE. This may have been drug-induced.
Anyway. They'd probably just put Gardner in and hope they hadn't stunted his development to the point where he'd be totally useless. Things would go poorly.
Could you blame them that much, though? If Hoke reaches for the brass ring next fall and it blows up in his face because Denard goes down and the guy who was supposed to be his backup is at wideout, I probably wouldn't even be mad. It would suck, but I want a guy who will swing for the fences.
While the coaches are going out of their way to make it sound like that is not in the cards, sometimes the relationship between reality and what coaches have to say to not have horrible things happen is great. If Devin wants to be the #2 QB going into fall Michigan would be foolish not to downplay the WR stuff until he's on campus in the fall. Once he's there, then talk to him about moonlighting while still being the #2.
Gun to the head, I think he does see a lot of time at WR in fall camp. He'll still practice most of the #2 QB snaps but also taking a share of snaps at WR when Denard is out there. They'll teach him one of the four spots—probably Hemingway's—and use him in certain three and four wide receiver packages for 15-20 snaps a game. If he proves to be a top-flight guy quickly Michigan might not have much choice about using him more in tight games, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
If Denard goes down for any length of time, it'll be Devin.
Meanwhile there are 20 or 21 other positions Michigan has to fill…
All Eyes(z) On Campbell
"It just means I can't slip at all, because I got 120 eyes on me now," Campbell said of leading the team on the field.
Well… there's no denying he looked a lot better.
Like, a lot. Last spring game guy was a lump who managed to not get blown off the ball most of the time and just about never did anything. During the year he was largely that with some nice plays mixed in, but too infrequently to be encouraging. In the spring game he had clearly progressed enough to actually beat his man to the gap more than once.
You know all those runs Rawls had where he had to abort mission and find another hole? Most of those were headed at Campbell. Since we got a baseline for Ricky Barnum in the time he got before his ankle injury last year—decent Big Ten player even then—that's a hopeful sign.
Mattison and Hoke hated it, though, hated everything. I am factoring in further improvement as this line Heningers themselves into ship shape by fall. Enough to survive a 'Bama onslaught? Probably not, but they'll be okay afterwards.
Other DL Items
Roh and Black each showed some pass-rush ability from their spots and neither got ostentatiously rammed into the endzone on a big run play. The going was tough for the offense. With four-ish starters back from an OL that paved the way for Michigan running backs—IE, no Denard—to average 5.7 YPA last year, I'll place that in the good column. The extremely tenuous good column.
One nice thing the moves do is it allows Mattison to play a ton of games with his line. Black and Roh can both function as outside DEs just fine, so Mattison can call plays where the line slants and stunts such that one of those guys ends up playing a WDE-ish slot whenever he wants. What Michigan lacks in bulk they'll have to make up for with quickness and the element of surprise; Mattison will have some chess pieces to do that with next year. Note that the touch sack on the Gardner waggle came from the containing… Black. Usually your three-technique is not the guy asked to do that.
The depth here was also encouraging. Richard Ash made a couple nice plays, which I was not expecting. One was an excellent string-out on a stretch play that forced the tailback to awkwardly cut behind him. I was beyond not expecting that. I don't think John Gasaway will get on me if I say I was shocked. Yeah. Later he showed up two yards in the backfield directly in the path of an iso; he got blocked from the side but the bounce he forced saw Marvin Robinson chop poor Vincent Smith down for a one-yard loss.
Redshirt freshman Keith Heitzman also was a standout on the second units, though his inability to flow down the line at the proper angle was the main issue on Rawls's fourth-and-short touchdown. He got into the backfield plenty. Once you've got a guy who can get there it's not that hard to get him to take the right angle against air.
Toussaint clubberates Morgan, via the Wolverine
None serious. Desmond Morgan took a cut block from Fitzgerald Toussaint and limped his way to the sidelines for the day; a source indicates that is not serious and shouldn't affect him at all. Jerald Robinson also had a minor boo boo that should not affect him.
The only player to miss the game was backup SDE Nate Brink, and that injury was no surprise since it happened before the Sugar Bowl. Barring a non-contact injury, Michigan should hit fall camp with everyone on the roster ready to go. Everyone save Brink, the suspended Josh Furman, and the mysteriously absent-but-returned now Tamani Carter got a full spring session in.
So they've got that going for them. That's a lot better than last year when five or six important players, including Toussaint and Lewan, were sidelined.
The Burzynski Start
World, meet Joey Burzynski, the redshirt sophomore walk-on who started at left guard in the spring game. That's not a huge surprise since a lot of shadowy spring practice reports praised him as a potential contributor and he had seen some time with the ones in the King of Tight Frames' highlight videos throughout the spring. His start may not mean anything more than Michigan wanted a decent right tackle (Elliott Mealer) on the second unit to give Bellomy a little time, but the guy started the spring game and must be considered an obvious member of the two-deep.
This is a development that strikes me as concerning. Redshirt freshman Chris Bryant has been getting a lot of shadow praise for a year now and he doesn't seem to be anywhere close to finding a starting job. Not only is he behind Mealer on most days when Mealer is a guard, he's behind Burzynski. Decrement your Bryant excitement meters.
No offense to Burzynski, but until proven otherwise the assumption here is that the spot featuring a walk-on is going to be a problem. Even if it's not that's a spot that will be subject to fierce competition in fall.
Q: does Michigan have enough faith in one of its incoming freshman tackles to move Kalis from primary tackle backup—this site's assumed role for him as a freshman—to left guard competitor? A: Dunno. I do know they like Ben Braden a lot, like far more than the recruiting sites did. Whether he's got the polish to be that third tackle or not I don't know. I would look at insta-move of Kalis inside as a good sign as far as Magnuson and Braden go. That'll be something to watch for in the spring.
Thomas Rawls: Ramming Speed
We got a few carries from Toussaint to remind us that yes, Virginia, Michigan has a true feature back again. The headliner amongst the backups was sophomore Thomas Rawls, who showed a knack in short-yardage ramming and the sort of spread-oriented north-south RAGE runs that Brandon Minor used to specialize in.
It was the short yardage that was most impressive. Michigan's OL was rarely getting Rawls the holes they intended to get him. I'll leave the debate about whether that was Mattison's DL being better than expected or the OL worse for people who enjoy debating impossibilities; what was certainly impressive is that when that happened to Rawls he downshifted behind wherever the intended hole was supposed to be and burst into the next one over—closer to the middle of the field. He lowered his head, knocked guys back, and showed enough presence of mind to reach the ball across the goal line when he was suspended near it. Your short-yardage back: check.
Rawls also displayed that north-south bowling ball mentality on a couple of belly plays from the gun on which flailing arm tackles failed to bring him down and he fell forward after contact. He's got enough of a package to also provide breathers for Toussaint when he wants out. He'll get 5-10 carries a game this year and fill a role. Not sure if he'll ever reach feature back status with two more years of Toussaint and the Isaac(?)/Smith cavalry coming in next season, but he doesn't have to to be a good idea.
Vincent Smith: Did I Do Something Wrong?
Dear Tiny Jesus,
It's me, Vincent. All praise to your save percentage. Could you make sure the spring game is the last time I ever run an iso play from under center? I never go anywhere and it hurts a lot when six 300 pound defensive tackles fling me into the natatorium.
Congratulations on your call-up with the Blue Jackets.
Tiny Bros Before Other Bros,
(Smith will be the third down back again and will level some dudes way bigger than he is to open up third down conversions. The power of Rawls hopefully compels Michigan not to run Smith out of the I any more.)
Spring game disclaimers apply, but where were Jerald Robinson and Roy Roundtree? They were out there. They were not targeted frequently. IIRC Roundtree got a hitch from Robinson on the first drive and then was not gone to again. Robinson featured from time to time but never as a downfield receiver, always as a checkdown option and usually a checkdown option being given a crappy pass.
The only receiver to make an impact was Gallon. I'd prefer Michigan's main target to be a big dude with a bigger catching radius, no offense Denard.
Secondary Status Quo
After a series of video clips heavily featuring comer Terrence Talbott with the ones instead of JT Floyd it was Floyd who got the start Saturday. He played well, making quick tackles on the short stuff. Later he broke up a slant on a goal-line situation only to get a horsecrap PI call (BOOO PRETEND REF, BOOO). While Talbott got some run, I don't think Floyd's job is under serious threat. Especially after Mattison gushed about him at that Glazier clinic some months ago.
As a unit the secondary was excellent. Countess got a pick and there were very few downfield completions. A skinny post from Gardner to Gallon stands out as the only one of note. Default note about how that makes the WRs look bad goes here; comparison to Michigan defenses pre-Mattison also does. To virtually skunk an offense in 60 plays is quality. With Talbott emerging Michigan seems to go four-deep at corner, maybe five or six depending on how ready Hollowell and Taylor are. The comparison to the Never Forget days is wondrous.
If the depth isn't quite as good at safety at least Jarrod Wilson and Marvin Robinson seemed on top of things… most of the time. Wilson was the guy Rawls made most of his highlights against. If either starter goes down there will be some hairy moments. One of the two should be able to replace 80% of Kovacs next year.
Robinson is out of the doghouse and to see him play well was good because I'd gotten some practice buzz that indicated he was out of shape. He's obviously not; he seems tuned in. Michigan will need him. Even if Furman's stuff was as minor as his lawyer suggests he'll be behind this fall. If it's not as minor he might not be available for a while.
Do Not Be Alarmed, Rich Rodriguez Is Still In Arizona
Formations and such: Michigan still can't run out of the I worth a lick, which is fine by me. I suppose we have to downshift into that stuff eventually, but I'd rather it be clear as day that the way to go is shotgun just to prevent any further Iowa-like misunderstandings of where Michigan's capabilities lie.
Aside from that the most interesting aspect of the day's formations was the most common set: two backs, three WRs, shotgun. That was the meat and bones of the spread and shred in its Slaton/White/Schmitt heyday and Michigan has a pretty good replica of that in Toussaint/Robinson/Hopkins, albeit without the spread-oriented OC and the lethality of the spread in the early aughts as allies.
This says what everyone expects about the TEs—yuck—and suggests that if Michigan can't block 'em they're going to spread 'em. If it's going to work they are going to have to make that gray area defender pay for cheating. We'll see.
Brandin Hawthorne: Mauler of Walk-ons
The most interesting thing that happened after Jack Kennedy entered, signaling the end of serious attention from most folk, was Brandin Hawthorne going ham. He shot a gap for a backfield TFL reminiscent of his slice into the Irish backfield late in that game, then intercepted a TE-bound ball on the next play.
He made a few other tackles here and there and looked… really good.
Now, we've seen him on the field and there's only one way Hawthorne making contact with a Big Ten blocker ends. That would be "poorly," and that would be why Desmond Morgan took his job last year and won't give it back this year.
I'm just saying, though. Just sayin' that when Michigan goes to a nickel package on a passing down I think having Hawthorne in there as a blitzer and cover guy instead of Morgan would behoove Michigan. Morgan's a little ponderous on his pass drops, and if it's a passing down Hawthorne's limitations against rushes aren't relevant. Just sayin'. Throwin' it out there.
You, athletic department intern who has to read these things: don't say you got it from me. Ask Mattison to repeat that thing he was saying a couple months ago about using Hawthorne as a nickel WLB and how smart that seemed even before he was killing walk-ons in the spring game. Yeah.
- Bellomy ran a QB power from the gun, so it's still there and it might stick around for a while. Bellomy did decently with it.
- There were also a few inverted veers, none of which went for a ton of yards. Gardner did impressively juke himself into a crease outside on one; he was blown dead before he could test it.
- Kaleb Ringer had an impressive track-and-tackle on Hayes in the open field off a dumpoff. Next play he whiffed a tackle on Toussaint (I think it was him).
- Jeremy Jackson's lack of separation from Blake Countess was… not surprising.
- Demens blanketed a Brandon Moore TE out that Gardner shouldn't have thrown but did; he made a nice play on the ball. His coverage is an underrated aspect of his game.
- Antonio Poole only popped up on my radar when he lost leverage on a Gardner scramble late.
Weather could have been worse. This is what Indiana was facing down for their now-cancelled spring game:
Tre Roberson put the One Ring into the fires of Mount Press Box and things returned to normal.
Random picture on the twitter:
Tuley-Tillman, Bosch… OH GOD WHAT DID THEY DO TO DENARD BREATHE BREATHEEEE
LaQuon Treadwell with Morris and Bosch:
Alumni game recap at AA.com.
Bullets and whatnot from:
Also AA.com has an article on Burzynski.
A couple of good sources have passed along information about Michigan's hot topics du jour.
On Trey Burke. This should not be a scenario like Harris or Morris where the player leaves for dim draft prospects. In Harris's case he wanted out no matter what; Morris had people in his inner circle pushing him into the draft.
Burke is not either of those guys. If the NBA does not tell him he is a first round lock, he'll be back. Since that doesn't seem in the cards—name the last one-and-done under six feet tall—Michigan should avoid the terrifying prospect of entering next year with no point guard at all.
On Devin Gardner. Someone who's seen Gardner at all of Michigan's practices so far says he's "instantly Michigan's best receiver and adds a new dimension to the offense." He's "crazy athletic" with "surprisingly great hands." The one complication for Gardner-to-WR is the situation at quarterback, where he's still the clear #2 option. Gardner is still taking all the second team QB reps.
/end inside info, begin speculation
A lot of people have been mentioning Woodson when talking about this when trying to guess how much playing time is reasonable for a guy who's still full time at a second position. He got 10-15 snaps a game on offense back in '97. Gardner may start at that level, but if it's crunch time and he's 6'5" with a city block catching radius…
Walker, Gardner, Avant (L to R)
After yesterday's one-two gut punch of basketball news, let's talk football, shall we? The story that will likely dominate the spring is the potential move of quarterback Devin Gardner to wide receiver, at least part-time. Gardner, in case you didn't see Brian's UV yesterday, showed some pretty serious skills at receiver when camping as a high schooler. He's also 6'5", athletic, blessed with hands large enough to make the catch above, and familiar with the offense. Meanwhile, Michigan's two known quantities at receiver are Roy Roundtree, whose production plummeted last year when QB OH NOES wasn't a regular part of the playbook, and Jeremy Gallon, who looks quite promising but is also listed at 5'8".
Gardner taking some snaps at receiver is a good idea then, right? I certainly think so, but I've heard several arguments to the contrary. Allow me to present them, then do my best to crush them.
Argument 1—Gardner shouldn't play receiver because if he's hurt at wideout and Denard gets inevitably dinged (or hurt himself, God forbid) we're totally screwed.
This is the argument I've seen the most, and the mentality behind it is one I absolutely hate. Yes, I'm aware that Michigan has just three scholarship QBs on the roster. That is the reality for this year and it's not an optimal one. Denard Robinson has been known to get knocked around on occasion, sometimes requiring a backup cameo. He's a running quarterback. Injuries happen.
But it takes a large leap from "Michigan is thin at QB" to "Gardner can't play wideout because injury doomsday scenario." First of all, if Denard gets hurt, that's a doomsday scenario in and of itself. If Gardner is hurt at the same time, well, the football gods hate Michigan. Does the slim chance of this worst-case scenario happening mean Michigan shouldn't play one of their best athletes at a position in dire need of help when he otherwise wouldn't see the field? No.
Simply put, college coaches cannot operate under the assumption that the worst will happen. That's the same line of thinking that made coaches doubt the viability of the forward pass (remember, only three things can happen when you throw, and two of them are bad) and causes the Zooks of the coaching world to punt on 4th-and-3 from the opponent's 38. Brady Hoke has proven that he's got some serious cajones, and that's generally regarded as a fantastic trait in a head coach. This is not how he operates.
Also, redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy may very well be an equally viable backup option as Gardner, or at least at the point where the dropoff between the two backups isn't large enough to justify keeping Gardner on the bench when he could be contributing at wideout. Which brings me to the next argument...
Argument 2—Gardner shouldn't play receiver because it'll take away from his practice reps at quarterback and he won't develop.
This one holds more water than the first argument, but I still don't agree with it. Gardner is already splitting backup reps at QB with Bellomy, and unless you think Gardner needs a ton of "mental reps," I don't think it hurts to have him spending his non-throwing practice time running routes and catching passes.
It's not like Gardner is switching sides of the ball. In fact, playing receiver can help with his quarterback play; running routes can hone timing, understanding of schemes, and keep him sharp and ready to see the field.
This year's NFL draft will provide a great example of a player who went through a very similar mid-career situation. Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill was a three-star dual-threat QB in the 2007 class, redshirting in his first season. As a redshirt freshman, he battled for the starting QB job but ultimately fell behind two other players. At 6'4", 220 pounds, Tannehill was moved to receiver in fall camp by head coach Mike Sherman. All he did was catch 55 passes for 844 yards and five TDs.
The next year, Tannehill again competed to start at quarterback, but lost out to Jerrod Johnson. As the primary backup, A&M could've handed him a headset, but instead they threw him back out there at receiver. Tannehill had 46 receptions for 609 yards and four TDs while also appearing in three games at QB in mop-up duty. As a junior, Tannehill started the season as a receiver but earned the starting nod as a quarterback partway through the year, completing 65% of his passes and throwing 13 TDs to just six interceptions. After a strong senior season as the full-time starter at QB, Tannehill is expected to go in the top 12 in this year's NFL draft. If playing receiver stunted his development as a quarterback, it wasn't enough to merit keeping the team's best receiver off the field.
Argument 3—The dumbest argument ever.
Sorry to put you on blast, Eric Lloyd, but I can't let this just slide on by:
@AceAnbender Why would you try this without trying Denard at WR first? That's for sure his NFL future and Gardner is better QB.
— Eric Lloyd (@EricLloyd) March 21, 2012
Just no. If I seriously have to argue this point, and I hope I don't for 99.9% of you out there, I'll keep it short. Denard Robinson is about to be a senior in his second year under the current system, coming off an All-Big Ten season that followed up one of the most productive years by a quarterback in the history of college football. Whether or not he's going to be a quarterback at the next level, it's by far the most optimal position to play him at in college.
Devin Gardner has attempted 17 career passes—10 against Bowling Green in a 2010 curb-stomping—and has spent his entire career as a backup quarterback. If he's better at this point in his career than Denard, he hasn't made that apparent to anyone who would have the best idea about whether or not that was the case. End of argument that hopefully never needed to be made.
Michigan can explore the opportunity of sticking a 6'5" playmaker on the field at a position of huge need, or they can keep Devin Gardner on the bench for fear that the worst thing ever will happen. Unless you're the type to keep a fully-stocked bunker in case of the nuclear holocaust, the choice here is rather apparent.
Fifteen minutes of Bo yelling at officials. Wot it says on the tin:
Can't see Hoke doing this; am now imagining Bo's reaction after the Hagerup incident against OSU. It does not go well for the kid. I love the announcers' reactions, which are mostly bemused. Musberger as Bo charges about ten yards onto the field to protest a pass interference non-call: "That's why they give him an extension cord."
Hoke with Dave. This had slipped my mind until a helpful reader reminded me of it. After Hoke took Ball State to 12-0 in his final year, he showed up on Ball State alum David Letterman's Late Show to deliver a Top Ten. It is exactly as you might expect:
Is that a red tie? Horror!
The Devin To WR thing. The internet was abuzz with rumors that Devin Gardner spent his first spring practice at wide receiver to the point where actual reporters actually asked Al Borges about it. Via Heiko, the response:
Are you experimenting with Devin Gardner at other positions?
“We’re doing what we did a year ago, pretty much. We’re giong to play the best 11 guys. Devin’s the backup quarterback right now. He’s number two, and we’re going to do what we have to do to get the best 11 on the field. Nothing’s changed in that perspective, so we pretty much have the same mentality that we had.”
Are you looking at him at wide receiver?
“Yeah … the practices are closed for a reason.”
That gruffy, annoyed non-denial was taken as confirmation of the Gospel from on high by the internet, and… yeah, I'm with you guys. Michigan is at least gingerly exploring the possibility of throwing Devin Gardner on the field as a wide receiver. Whether that's for wacky trick plays or is a serious exploration of what Gardner brings to the field there is unknown probably even to the coaches.
Me, I hope it's the latter. Gardner's nearly 6'5", has huge hands and explosive leaping ability, and this old film of him screwing around at WR at some camps…
…reminds me of that Sports Science thing they did on Justin Blackmon in which it was explained that he could catch anything within a half-mile radius of him. If you've got enough faith in Russell Bellomy to spot Robinson when he gets his inevitable dings, I'd roll with a potentially elite talent at WR.
The obvious downside is what happens in the event of a serious Robinson injury and next year, when Gardner is the presumed starter at QB. It's not a move that doesn't come with risks. Hoke seems like a guy who looks at the upside of things more than the downside. If you think getting Gardner on the field helps you win this year you have to do it. Next year is next year.
You can't escape me. Cleveland State reveals that Michigan has home dates with Oakland and the Cleveland State/BGSU winner as part of their participation in the Preseason NIT. Unlike a lot of of tournaments, the preseason NIT actually gives a berth in the final to the winners of their preliminary rounds—as it should be.
This is good. Michigan should be scheduling decent mid-majors instead of total dreck as they seek to get that RPI up in a year when they could be a national contender. Even if Oakland and CSU aren't up to their previous standards they should still be a far cry from the SWAC. CSU was 22-11 last year and made the NIT. They lost to Stanford in the first round but still finished in the Kenpom top 100. They lose three starters and a key reserve but Gary Waters has led his team to 20 wins in four of the last five seasons. They'll be at least decent.
Oakland had an off year by their recent standards and loses a third of their usage with Reggie Hamilton's graduation; they return everyone else except Laval-Lucas Perry, though. BGSU was a middling MAC team. These are much better opponents for numbers purposes.
The rest of Michigan's nonconference schedule is still unannounced but we do know they'll be getting a home game from Arkansas, a home game in the Big Ten/ACC challenge, will travel to Bradley as part of a quid pro quo for Bradley hiring Beilein's son, and will play WVU in New York. If they reach the Preseason NIT finals they're likely to meet some combination of Pitt, Virginia, and an unknown team.
Michigan's also added Arizona for a home and home starting in 2013-14, when Sean Miller's monster recruiting class (four top 50 players including Nick Stauskas teammate Kaleb Tarczewski) will just be finding its feet. Those could be big time matchups.
Etc.: Dolla dolla bill extends to the students, who will be paying $205 for six home games this year. Denard interviewed by BTN. Inside Michigan Hockey profiles the team headed into the tournament. Bowls versus the tourney in terms of money headed to teams. Michigan's first black player was George Jewett in 1890; Michigan Today profiles him.