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August 16, 2013Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges sat down with the media at the Al Glick Fieldhouse to discuss the progress of quarterback Devin Gardner, the young interior offensive line, the running back battle and more.
Here are the highlights, with our thoughts on what the news means for the Wolverines:
News: Michigan won't complete a game this season without a few offensive plays breaking down. Borges is working with Gardner and Co. on "improv" situations, making sure everyone knows his checks and responsibilities when something snaps the rhythm of a play.
Borges: "We have set rules that make the improve structural, if that makes any sense, so it doesn't become helter skelter, which can easily happen if kids are not instructed in what to do.
"Every pass pattern we have, we'll work on it when it's structurally perfect, and then when there's some form of breakdown, whether it's a push with a run up, a push with a break, when the quarterback has to do something that doesn't fit the structure of the play. It's going to happen about every third pass play, and good quarterbacks can create on that third play when the blocking breaks down or the route is covered."
Views: There are two immediate plays that come to mind when thinking about Gardner in "improv situations." The first - and worst - came in 2011 at Michigan State. Down 28-14 with three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Gardner took the snap, stepped up in the pocket, bolted (crossing the line of scrimmage), then doubled back more than 25 yards, trying to avoid Spartan defenders before being cut down 10 yards in the backfield.
The second - and best - came in his first start at quarterback, at Minnesota in 2012. The pocket broke down, and Gardner spun, rolled out and avoided defenders while keeping his eyes downfield. He eventually found wide receiver Drew Dileo all alone and completed a beautiful 50-yard touchdown pass.
I point out the ugly only to show how far Gardner has come. He has freak athleticism, but in 2011, that got him in trouble, because he relied on it too much. Now, he's a better quarterback. He can use that athleticism within the constructs of his position to find the options when the play breaks down.
He may not break loose for 70-yard touchdown runs like Denard Robinson, but, with his mobility and elusiveness, he is a very dangerous player when things go wrong. If he and the receivers are on the same page in those situations, it could mean bad things for the opposing defense.
News: The center is a crucial piece to the offensive puzzle. As the guy in the middle, he has to be able to make quick diagnoses of the defense and help make checks and calls on the offensive line. With the battle still raging between redshirt sophomores Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow, that is a concern.
Borges: "It gets a little dicey. It was weird the way it turned out a year ago. We had planned on Ricky Barnum playing center, but because we were such a gun team, we weren't getting a consistent snap. [To change centers so late] hurt us a little bit, but you have to do what you have to do. You want to give the guy as much time as possible to do it. This year, we don't have those issues as much. You just have more competition.
"The center can see the whole picture and is usually on the same page with the quarterback, because they're basically in the same spot on the field. We have some smart kids playing center right now, but they have to put everything on the same page. He has to manage the game."
Views: Since Michigan coach Brady Hoke and Borges arrived on campus, the center has been, arguably, the most tumultuous position on the field. The coaches walked into a terrific situation in 2011, inheriting Rimington Award winner David Molk, who was instrumental in the transition from the Rich Rodriguez offense.
But now, heading into Year Three, the Wolverines are working with their third starting center in as many years. Inconsistency at center is a difficult thing to deal with.
Whoever emerges as the starter, be it the more technically proficient Miller or the more physical Glasgow, has a great opportunity at hand to lend consistency to the position, and thus the offense as a whole.
If one of them can prove himself a solid multiple-year starter, it will mean huge things for this offense moving forward.
News: The Wolverines are getting closer to finding a starting tailback, but Borges declined to speculate on who that might be. He is not opposed to using multiple backs, though he prefers to have a "feature" running back in the system.
"Maybe that could happen. I would never say never, but you know how I feel about that. I have always liked a feature back, but if you have two good players who can gain yards, it does take a little pressure off both of them. The pounding is a little less. I have noticed that more teams are going to that. We're not totally against that. I just don't want to turn it into the Lido Shuffle."
Views: In 2011, five different running backs grabbed carries in the first half of the season, before now-fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint claimed the starting job vs. Purdue (Toussaint, Mike Shaw, Vincent Smith, Stephen Hopkins and Thomas Rawls).
Could there be a similar situation this year? Perhaps, but on a smaller scale. Toussaint will get carries, and if true freshman Derrick Green continues to impress in fall camp, the coaches will have to get him on the field.
Rawls, freshman De'Veon Smith and the rest of the corps are vying for playing time, too.
One thing is for sure: competition breeds improvement. The fact that these guys are all pushing each other (so much so that the coaches haven't been able to name a starter, yet) is a good thing.
The Wolverines have several capable backs in the stable. Whoever earns the playing time is going to be productive.
News: After five impressive starts last year and a summer of hard work, Gardner has earned more freedom and responsibility within the offense from the coaches.
Borges: "He has more [freedom] than he has had, because he has a better understanding. He's not going to call the game, but if there are calls that are not conducive to potentially successful scenarios, he has situations where he can get us out of plays or check to other plays that may be an option within a package. He has more freedom than he ever has, and he will continue to get more as he grows."
News: Remember how vocal Chad Henne was at the line of scrimmage in his final year as a starter, 2007? He'd break down the defense, tweak plays, take advantage of holes he would see.
Gardner isn't at that level, yet, but it's huge that the coaches feel comfortable enough with his knowledge of the game that they are giving him the opportunity to make some of those audibles.