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November 13, 2012It's been a cram course for junior quarterback Devin Gardner since Denard Robinson and Russell Bellomy went down with injuries, but easier in that Robinson didn't start "from ground zero," in coordinator Al Borges' words. Gardner has taken his responsibility seriously and is starting to earn the respect of his teammates as a result.
There's a fine line between being loose and being immature, and Gardner admits he's crossed it in the past. His recent success in a pinch, however, has made him realize just how much he can mean to the team and its goals.
"As you gain success, those things tend to come," Borges said. "But just because you're successful doesn't make you a leader. Some guys grasp that; some guys don't. He is beginning to evolve into a better leader all the time, but it's hard to lead until you've gained the respect of your teammates. He's in the process of doing that, but still, a work in progress."
One, though, that shows tremendous promise, providing hope for the end of this year (should Robinson continue to sit), next year and perhaps beyond.
The game planning has changed a bit, but the offense remains the same, Borges insisted. So has his routine.
"I've got a blitz meeting this morning, followed by going over the two minute offense. It's the same deal," he said. "I get home pretty much the same time.
"Game planning can change to a degree, but the thing about our offense - we've featured phases of our offense based on how the quarterback was. We have not reinvented the wheel in terms of our schematics because Devin Gardner is our quarterback. We're just featuring different phases of our offense that have been in our offense all along."
Gardner has shown he has the same great instincts, Borges continued.
"A lot of times it's pulling the ball down and running for first downs, being anticipatory on throws," he said. "He made a great read and throw on our sideline, a corner route, very instinctive. He saw coverage rolling to the boundary, threw the ball back to the single overage guy with a beautiful throw. That takes some instincts and some experience.
"A lot of times it's pulling the ball down and running for first downs, some of that stuff. You've got to be instinctive. There's a delicate balance. How much do you give throw a chance, when is it time to get out of there? You coach some of that, but sometimes guys have just got it."
They continue to add more to the playbook each week Gardner is taking snaps.
"You spoon feed the quarterback a little bit," Borges said. "His transition wasn't seamless but easier because he repped more at quarterback than wide receiver. That being said, we did not want to overload him with a bunch of data that confused him the first week. The second week when he got his feet under him a little more, we gave him a little more. We did the same thing with Denard, and we will continue to do the same thing with any quarterback that gains experience.
"Our approach, although schematically it's a little different, our thinking is we want to run the football. That's critical to our success. If it isn't huge yards at least it's respectable yards so other phases of our game open up. That's huge to us.
"Do we go in with the idea of setting up the run with the pass? No. We want to be balanced. However that comes about, so be it."
"He's always thrown pretty accurately," he said. "We charted all that during two a days, in camp and spring ball. His accuracy has always been pretty good.
"On his progressions, he missed a couple reads, but for the most part he has been pretty good. He checked one for a touchdown, a really good decision. For the most part it's been on the plus more than minus side. If we could limit some of the shaky ones - there were three balls that shouldn't have been thrown, but for the most part, it was pretty good."
"We are going to play until the end," Borges said. "We wont win them all, haven't won them all and won't win them all. But he does a wonderful job keeping his teams in the game. That comes from the top. We all do it; it's not all Brady, but his lead is instrumental in how we approach being ahead, behind, tied, whatever."
"These guys know their system," he said. "They changed coordinators, but almost a seamless change. New Coach Parker has added his own little tinge to the defense, but the core is still intact.
"They play blocks. You step, they step, make you block them. It's been this way since I can remember. They play their coverages really well, a lot like Northwestern. They generally don't give up any big plays unless you're fortunate. They are an impressive group, always have been a tough team to beat, don't beat themselves on the defensive side of the ball. They are sound."
"I can honestly say he is the most electric player I've ever coached," he said. "That's the first thing that comes to mind, and a joy to coach, I might add. He comes with energy every day, wants to learn, is tough, competitive. His demeanor might lead you to believe that's not true, but he is highly competitive.
"He just gives encouragement things and observations based on his experience. Every so often Coach Denard will get on the phone with me and suggest something. He's been awesome. I think Devin would tell you that. It's driving him crazy not to be able to play for obvious reasons, but he is into the game as much as he would be if he was playing, from a mental perspective.
"Every so often he'll come up with something. I'll usually slam-dunk him, but anything he says is always worth listening to. Maybe just a play, he might see something in a coverage - he's watching. He will give you useful input. Both of these kids know what's going on around them. I've had kids that weren't as observant or instinctive. These kids are both pretty instinctive. I think he could coach if he wanted to jump in with both feet."