ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Last year at this time, when Devin Gardner was preparing for Alabama as a wide receiver, he felt like he didn’t really have a grip on everything. The former high school quarterback couldn’t make sure everything was set up the way it should be. He couldn’t see everyone. He didn’t have his hands in everything.
So when he was thrown in the fire in the middle of last season as the Wolverines’ starting QB, after both Denard Robinson and Russell Bellomy had gone down with injuries, he felt one part anxious and one part relieved.
As a child, he chose the quarterback position because it was the one that allowed him to make the most decisions for his team. His skill set fit the position and the position fit his attitude.
“I trusted so much in my own skills,” Gardner said. “I thought I could do more things than I probably actually could.”
So switching back to the position meant some work -- he had to revisit the entire quarterback playbook -- but it also meant he got to revisit the quarterback mentality.
And as he transitioned to the position, the offense began a transition of its own, one that gave the quarterback even more control.
“We put in a cram course on the pro style for Minnesota, expanded a little bit as we went, but we never really hit the ground running,” offensive coordinator Al Borges said. “Until we got to the bowl game when we had basically a month to practice, that's when we started to take a pretty good step. We scratched the surface pretty good in the bowl game but still weren't there.”
While the Wolverines lost in the Outback Bowl to South Carolina, Gardner was 18-of-36 with 214 yards and three TDs. The Wolverines had 24 first downs (12 rushing, 10 passing, TWO from penalties) and moved the ball so well they had a nearly 15-minute edge in time of possession -- 37:59 to South Carolina’s 22:01.
Now -- after nine months, a spring season, a fall camp, and a control freak of a QB later -- Borges has been able to install more of what he wants as all of the pieces have started to fit together.
And at this point in the season, this is the largest Gardner can remember the Michigan playbook ever being.
For some QBs, that might be a bit intimidating, but Gardner couldn’t be more excited. He had a week to transition into being “the man” last season, but now he has had months.
And he has taken on that role well, according to coach Brady Hoke.
“You become that to some degree when you’re playing that position,” Hoke said. “You’re the one talking in the huddle, you’re the one who’s in front of everybody. I think there’s always a demeanor that you want to have for that guy.”
Gardner has worked to keep that demeanor with his offense through fall camp, and he knows it’ll be one of the keys to the team’s success. He said it has been “refreshing” to be able to be in this position again.
Michigan’s main goal will remain a Big Ten championship. But Gardner knows that championship seasons involve so many moving parts, not all that a single quarterback can control, so he won’t waste time focusing on those.
Instead, he’s focusing on what he can control: his expectations for himself and his teammates. Gardner knows he can help the team by raising his level of play and his teammates’ on a daily basis.
“If I’m the same quarterback in Week 1 as I am in Week 12, or if any of my teammates are the same player, that means I’m not doing my job,” Gardner said. “If that happens and we’re at Week 12 and we’re all the same players, I feel like that’s my fault, like I haven’t done my job as a quarterback and leader.”