Sophomore wide receiver Amara Darboh has impressed Devin Gardner this summer while Peyton Manning offered the Michigan quarterback some valuable advice.
Receivers putting in the effort
Both Gardner and fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon spoke at length this June about the chemistry they built through years of working together after practices. They have continued to build on that foundation this summer, but now have some company.
"Amara Darboh, [senior] Joe Reynolds, [redshirt freshman] Jehu Chesson -- the young guys especially are eager to learn and eager to get better, and I'm working with those guys to be as perfect as you can possibly be," said Gardner, who is willing to show up whenever necessary.
"Everyone has different class schedules so I'll come in two or three times a day to fit everybody in. Sometimes it's one-on-one with a receiver or sometimes there are two or three, or even four guys, there."
Gardner said he and Gallon have not lost their touch, though, and he expects the senior wideout to have a big year.
The 6-2, 213-pound Darboh has really stood out and appears on the brink of a breakout campaign.
"I'm not sure it's a big surprise but Amara Darboh is really exciting to throw to," Gardner said. "He's a big, strong guy; he's fast. He's everything you want in a receiver basically."
Meanwhile, Gardner and sophomore tight end Devin Funchess didn't exactly find a rhythm last fall - Funchess had only four catches in five games with Gardner under center (compared to 11 grabs in eight games with Denard Robinson), though two went for scores - but Gardner is intent to form a bond with his tight end after speaking to Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning.
"It's like a Dallas Clark situation [the former tight end for Manning]," Gardner said. "Funchess is a weapon. He's a mismatch. It's very important that we get on the same page because he could be unstoppable."
Gardner enjoyed his experience at the Manning Camp this summer, getting to know a side of Peyton and Eli few see, while the main crux of the camp -- working with youngsters - brought him delight.
"The majority of the camp was college quarterbacks helping younger people. I had a group of seventh, eighth and ninth graders and I could help to develop those guys alongside Eli, alongside Peyton. I was great to able to teach people because that's what I want to do when I'm done playing football," he said.
U-M Gearing Up For Rivalries: Fifth-year senior safety Thomas Gordon was clear that the Wolverines aren't overlooking Central Michigan in the season opener Aug. 31.
But he's certainly excited for Michigan's big home games against Notre Dame and Ohio State.
When asked about Michigan coach Brady Hoke's comments regarding Notre Dame "chickening out" of the rivalry, Gordon said, "I can speak for my whole team. We support whatever Coach Hoke says. That's our head coach. Whatever he said, that's what we agree on. It's going to be a big game, another night game with 115,000 in the crowd. It's going to be electric, but we're going to take it one game at a time."
Gordon is also upset that future Wolverines won't get a chance to participate in the Michigan-Notre Dame game, which has become an early-season fixture.
"That kind of sucks," he said. "I think it's bad for college football to miss out on that rivalry. It's been a part of college football so much. That has been a measuring-stick game, to play a big national team at the beginning of the season. We're going to miss it, for sure, but it is what it is."
As for the Buckeyes, Gordon doesn't need any extra motivation - such as the fact the Ohio State is pegged to possibly compete for a national title this year.
"You hear some things about another 10-Year War, but it's The Game," he said. "It's The Game. It's always going to be like that, regardless of who the coaches and players are.
"It is always a good deal to beat those guys. You can take all the preseason stuff and throw it out the window, because once those pads get on and it goes week to week, you don't know what's going to happen."
Injured players ready for fall camp
Coming off season-ending injuries, fifth-year senior tailback Fitz Toussaint (leg, ankle) and junior cornerback Blake Countess (ACL) have both been practicing at full strength with their teammates this summer.
"Fitz beat me in agility drills the other day so I think that speaks for itself," Gardner said. "I like to think of myself as a pretty agile guy and able to compete in that arena but he beat me. So I feel like Fitz is ready to go."
Countess, meanwhile, has looked sharp in 7-on-7s, even picking off a few Gardner passes, though with a catch.
"He has caught a tipped ball or two," Gardner said with a grin. "He's doing really well. I'm excited to see how he'll develop and keep getting better because he was doing so well last year and then it was unfortunate he had that injury.
"He's really hungry, just like the rest of us. He's been doing everything, breaking on passes, and running, and running faster than he did before it seems like."
"I'm no doctor, but from what I have seen from 7-on-7s and working out, he has his speed back," Gordon added. "He's cutting very well. To me, he looks fine."
Finally, redshirt junior Jake Ryan is on track to return in October from the ACL tear he suffered March 20.
"I've seen him running. I've never had that type of injury but I've heard it's bad and to see him running and pushing sleds is great," Gardner said.
Gordon On New Targeting Rules: Big Ten Media Day was pegged with questions about the new NCAA rules regarding head-to-head hits.
Gordon, as a safety, knows that some plays he has made over the years could possibly be affected by the ruling.
"We hear a lot of people who say it slows down the game," he said. "But you just have to tackle properly. It happens. Sometimes, it can't be avoided. It's just a part of the game. It's a part of the game. Sometimes, you can't avoid it. You can only try your best to avoid it. You just have to go out and play the game. Whether you get ejected or not - you just have to play the game."
Although it may alter the way safeties go after tackles, Gordon is thankful the new rules are in place.
"I love what they're doing with player safety," he said. "That is a big part of the game. Looking out for the players, I think we really need it."
Michigan's freshmen, on campus for the summer term, have been busy doing their own thing so there hasn't been much interaction with the upperclassmen. Still, Gardner has taken four-star QB Shane Morris under his wing as much as possible.
"I can help him a lot because I was a guy that came in with the same hype and same expectations he faces," Gardner said.
"He's doing really well. When we're in 7-on-7s, the playbook is dialed down for him so you really can't see until the bullets start flying because when you're doing 7-on-7 you can just tell him who you want him to throw it to, but it's when the defensive line is coming where you can see how much you develop.
"I can't wait until camp so we can see how he improves. He'll probably be my roommate so I just can't wait.
"Coach [Al] Borges would have never recruited him if he wasn't a student of the game. Coach Borges is a stickler for making sure you know every little detail about everything. Shane asks a lot of questions and I feel like he'll be ready to go when the season comes. Along with Brian Cleary - those two guys are going to compete for the backup job. I expect it to be a fierce competition."
Gordon, as the leader of the secondary, has taken two players, specifically, under his wing.
"Jarrod Wilson is opposite me at the safety," he said. "And he asks so many questions. This will be his first time fully stepping in and being the starter. And Delonte Hollowell, he had a really good spring, and you could see the improvement he made from practice to practice. The coaches and defense are waiting on him to see what he is going to do in the fall.
"Delonte was a freshman when I was a junior at Cass Tech. That was when we became friends, and that is going to carry on for a lifetime."