Quarterback Devin Gardner has done everything the coaches have asked of him this winter in preparing to lead the Maize and Blue in 2013, but nothing will be handed to the incumbent starter, head coach Brady Hoke reiterated Thursday in his first press conference of the spring.
"Don't assume that this is, 'Here you go,'" Hoke said, though he earlier elaborated on the gains the 6-4, 203-pound Gardner had made. "There are all things that you've seen him improve, from leadership, from the way he finishes drills when you're talking about winter conditioning. That's that example that you want him to show to his teammates.
"I like how he's handled himself. I like how he's matured, and I like his seriousness about being the quarterback at Michigan."
Gardner started U-M's final five games in place of an injured Denard Robinson and excelled, throwing for 11 touchdowns and rushing for five more while completing 59.5 percent of his pass attempts for 1,219 yards. Earlier this month, he was granted a medical redshirt stemming from a back injury in 2010, garnering eligibility for 2014.
"I think we were all anticipating what would happen," Hoke said. "From our standpoint we thought it would happen but you never know how those things can turn. But obviously it's an opportunity for him to play and be at Michigan another year. To keep elevating his game, from the intelligence standpoint, to playing the position, to getting back to the leadership. I think he feels very good about it."
In Gardner's five games under center, U-M rushed for an average of only 147.2 yards per game while throwing for 243.8, but don't expect those numbers to become the norm.
"The play-action game off the run game is going to be a big part of our offense," Hoke said. "We're not going to line up in one-back sets and three-wides and four-wides and start off throwing the football. That's not who we're going to be.
"You get into the season and there are game plans and those sort of things, but when you look at what we are and want to be with two-back sets -- being able to run the football is part of it."
Being able to run the football starts with the offensive line where U-M welcomes back only its starting tackles - fifth-year seniors Taylor Lewan (left) and Michael Schofield (right). Redshirt freshmen Ben Braden (left guard) and Kyle Kalis (right guard) are the favorites along with redshirt sophomore Jack Miller (center) to start inside.
At running back, fifth-year senior Fitz Toussaint remains limited - though ahead of schedule - in his rehabilitation from a bad leg injury suffered late in the year against Iowa.
"Fitz is a lot further along than I think any of us thought he would be," Hoke said. "That doesn't mean we're going to put him in there and do live stuff with him but he's really ahead of schedule. He's done a nice job in his work ethic.
"I think the run game depends what we do up front no matter whose back there. Gale Sayers could be back there and if we're not blocking at the line of scrimmage, you'll have problems."
As for the ball carriers, keep an eye on Drake Johnson.
"Big. Ends up going downhill. Can break tackles. Has a love and a fire to play. Has enthusiasm for it," Hoke said, citing what he likes about the 6-1, 209-pound redshirt freshman.
Hoke would like to have an actual spring game April 13. With 92 players on the roster this spring, it's realistic.
"I'd love to be able to do it," he said. "We'll see how it goes. I'd like the seniors to draft and have some fun with it, and really make a hot dogs and steaks. And to have a lot of competitiveness. But you never know. We're getting more depth and more quality. If we can get there, I want to do it."
Michigan announced that defensive lineman Ken Wilkins, tight end Nate Allspach and safety Andrew Offerdahl are no longer with the program. Wilkins is the only scholarship athlete among the three.
Senior punter Will Hagerup, meanwhile, remains suspended after violating team rules before the bowl game.
Hoke confirmed that sophomore Dennis Norfleet has moved back to running back after playing cornerback in the bowl game.
Junior linebacker Desmond Morgan will get a look at the MIKE after starting each of the past two seasons on the weakside, as U-M tries to put its three best linebackers on the field at all times. With that in mind, Michigan could get creative to play a pair of SAMs - fifth-year senior Cam Gordon and redshirt junior Jake Ryan - at the same time also.
"What we're going to have is they better know both positions because it makes it so we can slide guys in so you always have your best 11," Hoke said. "Cam has had a tremendous winter. It will be exiting and fun to see the different things we might be able to do with both him and Jake on the field.
You'd have one as an inside and the other as a pass rusher."
Redshirt sophomore cornerback Blake Countess, redshirt sophomore offensive guard Chris Bryant and redshirt freshman defensive end Chris Wormley will join Toussaint as players coming off injuries that will be limited this spring.
Gardner displaced redshirt sophomore Russell Bellomy as Robinson's backup after Bellomy struggled in a loss at Nebraska, but the 6-3, 202-pounder has rebounded from the performance.
"We feel pretty good about Russell Bellomy," Hoke said. "At times, he's the lost man in this whole conversation, but Russell Bellomy … you look at what he's done over the winter and what he looks like. He's a competitive guy. Obviously we thought he was a pretty good quarterback or we wouldn't have gone down to Texas and recruited him. We're excited about him."