March 19, 2012

Michigan poised to experiment with Gardner

Junior quarterback Devin Gardner is one of Michigan's best athletes but as U-M's No. 2 signal-caller he rarely saw the field in 2011 and could be resigned to the same fate in 2012. However, the Wolverines could creatively use Gardner offensive coordinator Al Borges said ...

"He's an incredible athlete," Borges said. "He has so many dimensions to him. He's smart so he picks things up fast. He doesn't have any problem that way. Every time you put together a plan, you have to find a way to factor him into it somewhere, if it doesn't sacrifice any other phases of your game.

"You saw last year, we're always looking for opportunities to get him in the game in some way, shape or form without breaking the rhythm of the quarterback, which I don't think we did, and see to it that we use him getting the ball, throwing the ball, and use him decoying."

A 6-4, 205-pounder, Gardner appeared in nine games at quarterback in 2011, sometimes in relief of an injured Denard Robinson but quite often with Robinson split out wide or in the backfield in what Borges coined the "deuce" package. Gardner ended up completing 11 of 23 pass attempts (47.8 percent) for 176 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also rushed for 53 yards and a score on 25 carries (2.1 yards per rush).

While Borges did not talk specifics - he didn't use the word running back or wide receiver - he is certainly open to the possibility it seems of using Gardner somewhere other than quarterback (without sacrificing his role as the No. 2).

"It's a matter of how; we've done a lot with him but there is still a lot more you can do," said Borges, who joked that practices this spring are closed for a reason. "He's certainly one of the better athletes on the team and we have to find a way to exploit that."

With Robinson blocking his path for at least another year, and the strong possibility that he will not receive a redshirt after appearing in just three games as a true freshman before a back injury shut him down for the year, Gardner appears open to any potential opportunity to see the field.

"He wants to play," Borges said.

If he ends up somewhere other than QB, Gardner would probably fit in nicely at wide receiver. Minnesota senior quarterback MarQueis Gray played wideout in 2010 before taking over as the starting signal-caller in 2011, and with his length and athleticism, Gardner could bolster a receiving corps dearth of proven performers.

However, Borges has high hopes for fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree after a difficult season in which the 6-0, 177-pounder saw his production plummet from 72 grabs in 2010 to 19 in 2011.

"Roy is moving to flanker - he was a split end last year - and because we split time with him and [redshirt junior] Jeremy Gallon, Roy took some hits with his numbers, but going to flanker, a healthy Roy Roundtree could really have a good season," Borges said.

"He's had such a great attitude. He did take a hit with numbers and it would be natural to second-guess a lot of things, but he didn't. And because he didn't, he's improving daily.

"And out at flanker now, you get more balls thrown your way. I have no doubt Roy Roundtree will have a heck of a year."

Michigan has only practiced twice this spring, neither day in full pads, so it is early, but Borges already has a strong impression of one of the young receivers - redshirt sophomore Jerald Robinson (6-1, 206 pounds) - vying to fill the void created by Junior Hemingway's departure.

"Jerald Robinson, in two days, has been very impressive," Borges said. "He's a big physical receiver, very much like Junior. Not quite as big, but still big. Has excellent hands. Ran on the scout team quite a bit, not because he wasn't good enough to play - he was good enough to play, but we were pretty good at wide receiver and never really got a chance to use him.

"But this year, Jerald is going to get a great look, and so far, what we've seen, he's going to make a contribution. And he is that big, physical guy much like Junior was.

"You ask how to replace Junior, and he's definitely at least one answer."

Gardner could be another.

"We're going to play the best 11 guys," Borges said. "Devin is the backup quarterback right now. He's No. 2 and we're going to do what we need to do to get the best 11 on the field. Nothing has changed from that perspective."

Notebook

  • Borges was asked what the offense will look like in his second season after the players have adjusted to him and he to them. But he doesn't expect it to change much from 2011.

    "We're still basically a shotgun team," he said. "We have a quarterback that can run and the best way to exploit that is for him to be in the shotgun, yet we still want to down-hill run.

    "You look at the last few games of the season and that's really what we want to be. We don't want to be a total shotgun team, but knowing that, the shotgun will be very, very prominent because of the skill set of our quarterback. We're basically going to be what we were a year ago."

  • Though Michigan has only two proven receivers in Roundtree and Gallon, receiver is not as big of a concern as tight end, where fifth-year senior Brandon Moore and redshirt sophomore Ricardo Miller are the lone veterans, with redshirt sophomore Jordan Paskorz moving in from linebacker.

    "They're not doing bad. No one has jumped up," Borges said. "Brandon Moore has been consistent. Ricardo Miller is more of a move guy, but has played with his hand on the ground a bit. He understands our offense. Very athletic. As athletic as any tight end we have. Used to be a wide receiver so he has speed, and he has receiving skills. He's going to get a great look. And we have some freshmen coming in and if they show up, they'll have an opportunity to contribute there.

    "We'll see. It's still too early. We haven't put pads on yet. I'm going to save judgment on that position until we've been through a few practices with pads and I can see guys blocking on the line of scrimmage because that is so critical to what we want to do."


















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