Devin Gardner to Receiver: Good Idea Comment Count

Ace March 22nd, 2012 at 2:05 PM

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:

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.



March 22nd, 2012 at 2:15 PM ^

Has there even been a debate about Denard not being the starter? I'm pretty sure we beat that to death halfway through last year. Anyone who says Denard shouldn't start either doesn't follow Michigan football, or is an idiot


March 22nd, 2012 at 3:37 PM ^

I guess the most popular guy in town is the backup QB. At least, to some. Im confused why some people want to move a Silver Football Winner, record setter, All-Big Ten selection and 2 year starter from his current position.


March 22nd, 2012 at 2:20 PM ^

I feel much if we could just speed up time to Labor Day weekend so I can be in Arlington sipping on beer in 100 degree weather outside Jerry's World I would be all set. 


March 22nd, 2012 at 2:36 PM ^

Just some guy who responded to me on Twitter yesterday. I would've felt bad about using that tweet, but then he kept arguing the point with some other person and tagging me in the tweets.

EDIT: Actually, in his profile he claims to be a reporter, tho he doesn't specify for whom. Now I don't feel bad at all.


March 22nd, 2012 at 9:08 PM ^

After endless texts and tweets about me being crushed on here I decided to check it out for myself. I have no problems with anything said about what I said. I am a reporter so I have thick skin. That Twitter account is technically my work one so that's why it is the same photo. I am not the child actor but every December, my Twitter account is berated by people catching The Santa Clause on ABC Family. I loathe Mike Valenti. I am not a UofM grad but I am from South Lyon, just 15 minutes from AA, and gre up loving the Wolverines.

Now that that's out of the way, I feel I can defend myself a bit. I know it's not a popular choice. I love Denard Robinson. He has made me very happy many times. He has also made me very sad. I meant my tweet to be innocent and had to keep it short (damn 140 characters).

I just think that the best COMBINATION of Gardner/Denard is Denard at WR and Gardner at QB. I'm not saying to bench Denard. I'm saying to run him at WR, RB, KR, PR, a little trick QB plays and any other way. Get him the ball in the open field. Do not forget how many yards Denard threw for this year that were absolute prayers that Hemingway and Co. bailed him out on. What use will Gardner be at WR if Denard can't get him the ball?

Now yes, there is no reason to believe Gardner will be amazing. But while being recruited, I kept reading that he was torching QB camps, he had the best arm even out of the pocket passers. Does that mean he will be good in a game? Not at all, but I'd like to see them try. Gardner just seems to be MORE of the type of QB the coaches want for their system. He's more Shane Morris than Denard Robinson. Denard has no future after this year at QB so it would be in his best interest to go WR.

Like I said, I love Denard...he can do things that nobody else can but there are those vomit inducing plays that he makes (you can all agree). If they put Gardner at Qb and it works, I will be happy, but they both need to be on the field. It's all fun to discuss though right now.

P.S.- This is coming from a CMU grad whose best 3 players on his football team are QBs. Then the fourth QB is actually the starter. It's maddening.

P.P.S.- This post forced me to make a profile. Mind if I join the fun? Can we be friends?


March 23rd, 2012 at 8:06 AM ^

I don't think any of the Mods here will hold a grudge against you just because you have a differening opinion. Although you may end up in Bolivia if you persist an argument for too long. Nothing wrong with holding an opinion, just realize it isn't a popular one on this site. Denard is the QB, regardless of some of the mistakes he makes, he has been one of the most exiting QB's this team has ever had. He also seems to be a good leader. While Hoke says no position is guaranteed, there is a near zero chance that Devin could replace Denard at QB this season. Again, not that he couldn't or won't be a QB next year.




March 23rd, 2012 at 3:18 AM ^

I was hoping it was some sort of inside joke or that you two were good friends. No matter his sin, this seems a little unprofessional, to be honest.

That said, it would be funny if you two continue to call each other out (him via the Traverse City News).


March 22nd, 2012 at 6:59 PM ^

Agreed.  If you don't want people to read or critique the things you say, don't post them on twitter.  He could have emailed Ace instead, if he wanted anonymity. 

Cool thing about twitter - when you say something cool or interesting, everyone gets to see it.  When you say something stupid, same thing applies. 


March 22nd, 2012 at 2:40 PM ^

Don't think it'll have an effect one way or the other. I'd expect Gardner to be back at QB in 2013, when there will just be him, Bellomy, and Morris on scholarship. Unless Bellomy beats Gardner out and the staff is comfortable with Morris as the primary backup (or Morris wins the job, but I don't think they're too keen on a true freshman starter), but—as the Tannehill example shows—by no means do I think this closes the door on Gardner as a QB. If he wins the job, I'd expect Bellomy to back him up and Morris to get a redshirt year.


March 22nd, 2012 at 2:44 PM ^

But let me take a stab at answering this:

Scenario #1:  Devin shows legitimate skills at WR, (not necessarily Braylon or Manningham, but something akin to Jeremy Gallon this past year in terms of number of catches per game):

If this happens, then I think that we see Devin as our 2013 starter, with Morris as a back-up, and with Morris working into the regular rotation in the same way that Devin was worked in last season on the 2-QB set (Morris as QB, Devin as WR).  It is always better to work in a true freshman QB slowly than to just throw them to the wolves from day 1 (see: Clauson, Jimmah first season).


Scenario #2:  Devin, with his 6'5" frame, emerges as a monster WR that creates match-up problems for opposing CBs and who has real big play potential (think Plaxico Burress)

If this happens, Devin stays at WR, and either Bellomy starts with Shane working his way into the rotation at QB, or Shane is just too good to sit and he starts. 


Scenario #3:  Devin is a non-factor at WR

While the obvious answer to this is "Devin back to QB in 2013", I don't think that it is so clear cut.  Devin is likely to be a vertical threaty WR, not a possession WR.  Devin may not be much of a game changer because of Denard's arm issues.  If that is the case, but the coaches see something there, he could stay at WR.  Or, of course, the coaches may just move him backto QB.

So, I think that much of the answer to your question will depend on how Devin does, and in what manner the coaches see him developing into 2013.





March 22nd, 2012 at 6:09 PM ^

Although that scenario is possible, I have a hard time envisioning a situation with a team that has a stud WR (is addition to other good receivers), a good offensive line (which we should have in 2013 is Lewan doesn't bold early), a senior returning starter at RB, and two QBs like Shane and Bellomy who can't hack it. 

My point is, just like Henne when he was a freshman, whoever is our starting QB in 2013 will have lots of weapons around them.  One of them will be able to hack it. 

This is Michigan

March 22nd, 2012 at 2:33 PM ^

Sadly Ace, the notion that Denard should move to another position is still very widespread.

Something about him not being a prototypical NFL QB. I understand that his completion percentage is low, his interceptions are high and he is a little unorthadox, but this is college. Not the NFL.

He is the best option for the QB position and his overall production is through the roof. Hoke and Borges had their chance to move him to another positiion or allow him to transfer. I would like to think that they wanted him as QB for a reason.


March 22nd, 2012 at 2:33 PM ^

Love the Tannehill anecdote, I didn't know that about his college career arc. And no offense to Tannehill, but he's no athletic freak like Gardner is. If he can get over 800 yards in a season, you would have to think the ceiling for Gardner could even be in the 1,000 yard range. Denard is going to throw 20 times a game and he has no guaranteed commodities at TE, Roundtree, slot ninjas, and Jerald Robinson plus a few others.

I completely agree, you just have to love the risk/reward factor here. He could be a total monster at the loss of only a few reps.


March 22nd, 2012 at 2:39 PM ^

but we are too thin at QB to be doing this. Another point, unless Denard does a complete 180, down field passing is very difficult for him. I can't remember the last time he completed a down field pass without it being a jump ball, prayer pass. I'm not trying to be negative, but I feel a lot better with a quality back up QB available. If we had 4 scholorship QB's I would feel a lot better.


EDIT: OK, after briefly thinking about this more, I say the heck with it. Go for it! Maybe Bellamy is a ass kicker anyway.


March 22nd, 2012 at 4:11 PM ^

Devin can still be the primary backup QB while catching balls in his spare time.  And coaches clearly have the confidence that Bellomy can handle spot duty if needed. 

The max upside move here is clearly to let Devin get time at WR. 


March 22nd, 2012 at 2:38 PM ^

The Tannehill comparison is useful and interesting. A&M liked to line Tannehill up in the slot and use him as an inside receiver in the Missouri sense. That is, almost like a TE, but without blocking responsibilities and lined up a little bit wider.

Tannehill's best skill was finding gaps and seams in the zone, which makes sense since he was approaching the position as a QB. If Gardner is used similarly, that's really exciting, given the lack of receiving TEs on this team.


March 22nd, 2012 at 2:39 PM ^

I might be stating the obvious, but you have to consider not only the probability of Gardner being out b/c of an injury at WR while Denard is also out b/c of an injury but also how much worse off you would be if that happened than you would be if only Denard was hurt - and then weigh that against the gain that you would get from playing Gardner at WR.   The likelihood of both being hurt is small, but the drop-off may well be very big if it does happen.  I can't say b/c I don't know how much better Gardner is at QB than Bellomy (if at all).  I can say that I'll be nervous if/when Gardner is out there at WR. 


March 22nd, 2012 at 2:53 PM ^

It is only a problem if Devin gets hurt at WR, and THEN Denard gets hurt at QB. If Denard gets hurt, Devin moves behind center, and nothing has changed.  If Devin gets hurt at WR, things only change if Denard subsequently gets hurt.  And even then, it's only really a problem if (a) Bellomy is a significant downgrade from Devin, or (b) Bellomy gets hurt.

And in the latter scenario, we will obviously have done something to upset Angry Michigan BLANK Hating God, and as such no number of scholarship QBs will save us.