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August 22, 2013The expectation is for the position. That's the cliche at Michigan, and it's all about the next guy stepping up if someone goes down with an injury. That would be a tall order this year should redshirt junior Devin Gardner go down, something Michigan fans don't want to think about.
The Wolverines already lost one of their better receivers when Amara Darboh went down with a foot injury, out for the year. An all-conference quarterback, though, can be the difference between a good team and a great team, especially one with a work ethic former U-M and NFL quarterback Brian Griese calls off the charts.
"He's a heck of a player and an athlete, but the thing I probably like the most about Devin is he really studies the game," Griese said. "Most people don't realize how hard he works. He wants to learn the game inside and out. That's a key to having success. I don't care how talented you are, you've got to know what you're doing. I've been impressed with that."
It's a quality shared by all of the Michigan greats, including one - Tom Brady - with whom Gardner spent time Thursday in Schembechler Hall. Brady talked about the qualities that made him a two-time captain, and Gardner listened attentively.
On an offense with many question marks, Griese called Gardner one of the constants. He's developed into a leader where once he was almost the class clown of the offense, and that's gone hand in hand with his immense talent to make him a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate.
It took him a quarter to shake off the rust last year at Minnesota, leading a blowout win, and he's primed to take another step this season.
"It was amazing for me," Gardner said of last year's last five games. "You've always known I'm a confident person. I've always never had a doubt I can do it, things like that. To be able to have it come back to me so quickly was amazing to me. I really enjoyed it.
"Now this summer we've been watching a lot of film. It helps us not so much with the opponent all the time, but looking at ourselves. Football is a game of inches. When you make a slight step wrong, it can be the difference between an interception returned for touchdown or our guy catching and running for a touchdown."
With no clear cut No. 2 - freshman Shane Morris is learning, and Brian Cleary, while improving, is a walk-on who still has a long way to go, the pressure's on Gardner. It's not just about performing but staying healthy to help the Wolverines reach their only goal.
"My expectation is to win every game. That's pretty much it," Gardder said. Losing a game is not acceptable. Last year we lost five. We expect to win every one, last year we lost five, so you can see why coach Hoke said it was totally unacceptable.
"But this camp has been fun. It's like living a dream, and I still haven't woken up. I'm thankful I got the opportunity, felt like I've done it right, waited my turn and it's finally here."
The only thing that will make it better is to put a rose in his mouth following the Big Ten Championship game, he added, after securing a Rose Bowl berth.