It's what makes the offense tick. Without a solid quarterback, your offense will struggle to be successful. However, is the quarterback position responsible for Michigan's offensive woes in 2013? Yes and no, but with more blame falling on the offensive line than QB.
Could returning senior Devin Gardner been smarter with the football at times? Absolutely. Although it doesn't help when the offensive line doesn't allow him adequate time in the pocket. Needless to say, last season was a failure for the Wolverine offense.
With a new offensive coordinator and a re-dedication to the power running game, we break down the depth chart of the quarterback position to see if any major changes will be made from a season ago.
The Players (Listed in order by class)
|RS Junior||Russell Bellomy|
|RS Senior||Devin Gardner|
When examining the scholarship quarterbacks on roster, it's obvious that there is an even split between youth and older players. With every class being represented, depth should not be an issue like it was in 2013 when Russell Bellomy went down with a torn ACL before spring practices began. If Bellomy were healthy, would that mean Shane Morris' redshirt could have been prevented? Possibly, but the on-field experience Morris gained last season will help down the road.
After Gardner, game experience is sparse. With each Morris and Bellomy having a handful of career appearances each, save for Morris' one start in the bowl game a year ago.
2013 Statistics (If Applicable)
I have a difficult time justifying benching a near 3000-yard passer in favor of someone who shows promise as a four-star recruit coming out of high school. If you recall, Gardner was also rated a four-star recruit and was ranked as the number one dual-threat quarterback in the 2010 recruiting class.
Sure, the difficulties Gardner displayed last year were concerning. With a few months under the wing of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, it is something that could easily be fixed. Also, if the offense fixes their issues from last season, they could be in good shape.
2014 Maize n Brew Projected Depth Chart
In the case of freshman Wilton Speight and Bellomy, it would not be a shock if they are considered interchangeable 3a and 3b options. Like Morris, Speight (though highly under-recruited in high school) showed some promise in the months leading up to his early enrollee date to Michigan. Although it appears that the Wolverines are set with a starter and backup, it would not be a surprise to see Speight get some playing time in 2014 -- albeit in a garbage time role. There is a starting role available to him sometime in the near future.
But, for now, Gardner is -- and should be -- considered the starter heading into the season. Head coach Brady Hoke said before the spring game that Gardner would be considered the starter if the season started today. That vote of confidence is pretty telling about Hoke's desires for Gardner to become a senior leader on an offensive unit that has a good amount of young talent that will see playing time.
Three Big Questions
1. Will the coaching staff hesitate to bench Gardner if his struggles continue?
First off, let's hope that the struggles of last season are put in the past. Secondly, if the struggles were to happen, I would hope the coaching staff would consider a move as a last resort option. We saw last season that it appeared that Gardner worked through most of his issues until a broken foot caused an obvious setback.
But, if it gets to the point of benching, I do think the coaching staff -- Nussmeier in particular -- will allow Morris to take over.
2. What does Gardner need to do to become more successful in 2014?
Cutting down the mental errors would be huge for his progression as a quarterback. It was obvious that some errors were caused by the offensive line not allowing him to run through his check-downs and such. However, at times it appeared that Gardner would focus on solely one receiver and not look elsewhere. This is a common mistake made by quarterbacks and is not a "Devin Gardner issue," the better quarterbacks learn to avoid that bad habit.
I think the fleet-footed quarterback at Michigan has run its course. Although Gardner is athletic, he is far better served as a strict pocket passer. He is no Denard Robinson, but can pick up a first down or redzone touchdown. We saw at the end of the year just how banged up he was (again, some of that falls on the offensive line). With him staying in the pocket longer, it is possible to avoid some of the hits he took in 2013 (AGAIN, this falls on the offensive line!)
3. Is Shane Morris ready to lead this team if he is named the starting quarterback this season?
That's the biggest question mark Morris brings to the team this year. Although with a watered down offense last season, Morris showed some command of the offense and seemed capable of leading the way. But, how would he produce with an expanded role?
Personally, Morris should do fine against the weaker opponents on the schedule this season (there are a few.) Once the Wolverines get into the heart of the conference schedule, Morris might show some youth moments. Though I still feel that Gardner provides another win or so compared to Morris.