Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Take Two: Is Michigan's QB race real?
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett occasionally will give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
Quarterback competitions are taking place around the Big Ten this spring, and Michigan insists its starting job is open despite the return of senior Devin Gardner, who led the offense throughout the 2013 regular season. Gardner said Tuesday that he's not only competing with Shane Morris, last year's backup, but also with freshman Wilton Speight, a mid-year enrollee.
Today's Take Two topic: Is Michigan's quarterback competition real or just a way to push Gardner?
Brady Hoke is opening up the quarterback competition at Michigan, but Devin Gardner still appears to be the best option.
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
I don't buy this as a true competition. Coaches never want players to get too comfortable, especially after a rocky season like the one Michigan's offense had in 2013. The Wolverines bring in a new offensive coordinator in Doug Nussmeier, who deserves to evaluate all the players based on what they're doing now, not entirely on what they've done in the past. Despite all of this, I would be very surprised if Gardner isn't the one leading Michigan's offense on Aug. 30 against Appalachian State. Does Brady Hoke really want to enter a potential make-or-break season with Morris, who only has one career start, or Speight, who has zero college experience? Gardner undoubtedly had his troubles last season and, like many of his teammates, fell short of expectations. But let's not forget the huge numbers he put up against Notre Dame, Indiana, Ohio State and Penn State.
Michigan's troubles on offense had more to do with the line and the lack of a consistent power run game than with Gardner. I don't know many quarterbacks who would have had a chance in games like Michigan State or Nebraska with the way the line was performing. Does Gardner need to improve his decision-making? Without a doubt. Is he Michigan's best option at quarterback this fall, despite some potential scheme changes under Nussmeier? Yes. Gardner isn't quite 100 percent this spring because of a foot injury sustained in the Ohio State game. When he gets back to full strength, it should become fairly clear to Nussmeier and others that No. 98 is Michigan's best option.
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It's a real competition in the sense that all jobs should be a competition in the spring. Add in the fact that the Wolverines have a new coordinator with a fresh set of eyes and a different playbook, and everyone should be on their toes.
But does Hoke strike you as the kind of guy who's willing to toss veterans aside and start a true freshman quarterback? Certainly not. While it's undoubtedly good news that Speight is impressing, he seems like a perfect candidate to redshirt because Michigan has so much experience in Gardner and a guy in Morris who at least got his feet wet as a starter in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Perhaps a scenario unfolds in which Morris plays so well this offseason that Hoke and Nussmeier ask Gardner to move out to receiver, a position that needs some reinforcement. But I doubt it, as I still believe Gardner is a special player. No Michigan quarterback had ever thrown for 400 yards in a game before last season, when Gardner did it twice. He also broke the school record for total offense in a game against Indiana. He has to cut down his turnovers -- which is why colleague Travis Haney rates Gardner No. 2 on his list of "prove-it" players for 2014 -- but I thought he already started to do that toward the end of 2013. Bottom line: Garder has a rare sort of playmaking ability, and while Morris and Speight might be the future, Gardner should remain the starter right now.