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August 9, 2013

The Week That Was: Practice begins

A pair of retirements for deserving Michigan Men earned some attention this week, but the biggest news of the day was the start of fall practice.

Fall practice begins Monday

Team 134 officially got underway at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 5 with the players in shorts and helmets the first four days. The first full-padded practice was scheduled for today (Friday). Freshman tailback Derrick Green created some buzz, first by reporting to camp at 5-11, 240 pounds and then after rumors, confirmed by coach Brady Hoke, that he had suffered a minor injury. Green is expected back at practice Saturday.

What They're Saying

While many were focused on Green, Wolverine Nation's Michael Rothstein said the bigger story is at quarterback, where true freshman Shane Morris is vying to be the backup in the absence of injured redshirt sophomore Russell Bellomy: "Of a lengthy list of position competitions for a team still finishing its rebuilding stages in its third year under Brady Hoke, perhaps the second most-important battle lies between two players who might see less than 25 snaps combined this season. The backup quarterback."

Maizenbrew.com's Brandon Folsom also jumped on the backup QB bandwagon, noting he believes Morris leads to win the job: Morris and Cleary are splitting backup reps evenly, but Morris should have the lead in the race. U-M coach Brady Hoke talked very highly of the blue chipper at Big Ten Media Day last month in Chicago. Hoke did not say it outright, but it seemed like he was learning toward Morris to win the backup job since bringing in a transfer quarterback was no longer an option.

"Morris is unproven, and he did not see any reps in the spring game, as he just stepped on to campus this summer. However, Cleary did play in the game, and he only completed 2 of his 9 passing attempts for 24 yards against a banged up Michigan defense.

"Should Gardner go down, U-M will not have the luxury of having a talented backup quarterback like it had last year when then starter Denard Robinson got injured against Nebraska on Oct. 27. One of these two guys has to step up in a major way in camp before the season starts."

My Take: Michigan will be fine at tailback whether Green is banged up or not, or too heavy or not. There are just too many players competing at that position for the Wolverines to struggle like they did a year ago, and while Green could be a force this fall (and likely will be even with a few missed practices), watch out for classmate De'Veon Smith too.

As for the QBs, chances are Morris is the first signal-caller we see after Devin Gardner if the Maize and Blue get up big on Central Michigan Aug. 31 and Akron Sept. 14. Redshirt freshman walk-on Brian Cleary may have more practice experience, but if Gardner goes down for any length of time, Morris is more capable of making good use of the Wolverines talent at receiver, tight end and in the backfield.

This is such a precarious position to be in because even if this kid is a stud, he will still be swimming in information overload, and the chances of him being able to do what Chad Henne did as a rookie in 2004 (namely lead U-M to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl) are slim. For Michigan's sake, pray that Gardner starts and finishes all 12 regular-season games this season.

Devin Gardner ranked top breakout player in 2013

In an ESPN Insider article Travis Haney ranked Gardner the No. 1 breakout player for 2013, with Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon second. Haney did not include any 1,000-yard rushers or 2,000-yard passers, and he said he utilized input from 50 college coaches.

What They're Saying

In the piece, Haney writes: "After Denard Robinson injured his arm last fall, Gardner was finally given license to do what he felt was his true college calling. He responded by leading Michigan to three wins, throwing 11 touchdowns and completing 75 of his passes in five starts. He posted a 90.6 rating in ESPN's new QBR metric, the highest for any player with 150 or more action plays.

"He now seems ready for more in his full-time role.

'I recruited him,' said one of the Big Ten coaches who played against Gardner late last year. 'I know how good he can be. I would say I have been looking forward to him getting his chance, because he's a really good kid, but they're on the schedule again this year.'"

My Take: Finally a few people nationally are taking notice of what those of us locally have been espousing for months now - Gardner can be the best Michigan quarterback U-M has had since Drew Henson in 2000.

Henson may be the only QB physically that can match Gardner's potential, and the way he played during his abbreviated stint as the starter his junior year in 2000 - 61.6 percent completions, 238.4 yards passing per game, 2 TDs per game and just 0.44 interceptions -- is truly within reach for a player of Gardner's talent and temperament.

Of course, he'll need some help, especially up front, but it would be a greater surprise at this point if Gardner wasn't a breakout player than if he was.

Frank Beckmann to retire

Michigan's radio play-by-play man for the past 32 years, Beckmann will call his 33rd and final season of U-M football in 2013, the Maize and Blue announced today. Beckmann succeeded the legendary voice of Bob Ufer in 1981 and began partnering with color commentator Jim Brandstatter.

What They're Saying

Mark Snyder from the Detroit Free Press reached Beckmann shortly after the announcement this morning, giving the longtime radio voice the chance to explain why he is departing: "It's a long time doing games and spending a lot of time on it and going to Ann Arbor three days a week and the column.

"Over time, it builds up. You've got your family, and your buddies going out and playing golf, so you're just missing things and, all fall, you're spending your time working all week and all weekend. We've been talking about it for a couple of years. I just decided now's a good time, while I'm still young and have interest in other things."

The elephant in the room, according to MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner is whether Beckmann's controversial remarks in the spring, in which he said that references to Tiger Woods eating fried chicken, made by fellow PGA Tour golfer Sergio Garcie, were overblown: "The announcement of Beckmann's retirement comes less than three months after the university publicly scolded him for a controversial opinion piece he penned in The Detroit News. Beckmann apologized for his comments shortly thereafter, and Michigan distanced itself from the situation."

My Take: With longtime equipment manager Jon Falk announcing his retirement last week (with 2013 his last season), PR man Bruce Madej doing so earlier this week (2013-14 his last) and now Beckmann, three U-M stalwarts, with 107 years of service to the University, are calling it quits. Each deserves to ride off into the sunset for their dedication to making Michigan football (and in the case of Madej, all athletics) the best it could be.

Each will be missed dearly. Sit around at a table with those three and you would be left laughing, crying and just relishing the unbelievable stories these three could tell. Falk has penned a book and will certainly be a hot commodity when he steps down, connecting generations of Michigan coaches and traditions. Madej was intimately involved with Fab Five and can go on and on, while Beckmann called the Wolverines' 1997 national championship run.

Michigan will hire replacements (for Madej, they already have, with David Ablauf a solid heir) and the programs they represented will keep on going, but each has left an indelible imprint on U-M history and like the all-time greats, these three will remain in our conversations for years to come.




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