Wolverines issue of the week: What should Michigan do with Devin Gardner?
ANN ARBOR -- Michigan has a quarterback-turned-receiver-turned quarterback who is the team's best receiver, but only reliable backup option at quarterback.
And he might be the best player at both positions next year.
What should Michigan do with Devin Gardner?
The junior filled in admirably for the injured Denard Robinson last week against Minnesota, completing 12-of-18 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Almost all of that production came in the final three quarters, after shaking off the rust in a shaky first quarter.
Gardner was the engine in Michigan's 35-13 win, guiding four touchdown drives of at least 79 yards. Not even Robinson has done that in a single game.
Does that mean Gardner should supplant Robinson at quarterback? And what does it mean for his future?
First, let's get this out of the way: There's no way Gardner should start in front of Robinson, when Robinson's healthy. Won't happen, shouldn't happen.
But the rest of this get's a little murky.
When Robinson does return, what do you do with Gardner? Does he prepare throughout the week as a quarterback, or does he slide back to receiver?
A little of both, likely. Michigan will want Gardner as its backup quarterback, especially with Russell Belomy unavailable and Robinson's elbow bothering him three of the past four games. That could be an injury that impacts him the rest of the year, and the Wolverines need production from a backup.
But it also needs depth at wideout. So, I'd expect Gardner to split snaps throughout the week at quarterback and receiver, when Robinson returns, then play receiver on Saturday.
And what of next year?
Gardner is the starting quarterback, barring something crazy, and that's never been more clear. Hoke said Monday the plan all along has been to move Gardner back to quarterback. That may or may not be true, but either way, it appears it's happening.
Bellomy is back next year, and five-star recruit Shane Morris hits campus, but Gardner is becoming the early favorite for the job. If the Wolverines moved Gardner to receiver to get him on the field, they wouldn't move him back to quarterback to take him off it.
He appears to be the early, unquestioned leader to be Robinson's successor.
Michigan's in a tricky spot with Gardner right now, and everything -- as usual -- hinges on Robinson.
If Robinson's healthy and ready to play, Hoke says he'll start his senior quarterback. He wouldn't say one way or another if he'll consider playing both of them at quarterback during a game this season -- explaining how it hasn't gotten to that point yet.
However, due to Robinson's slow-healing arm, the obvious move is to continue repping Gardner at quarterback as a contingency plan -- because even if Robinson is able to play, the chance of that arm injury flaring up has to be pretty good. The problem you run into there, though, is that he can't prepare to play wide receiver (No, guys, he can't. College kids don't practice for eight hours a day). And no matter what, Michigan needs Gardner on the field in some capacity. He's one of its best athletes and best playmakers -- he can't watch the game, healthy, from the bench anymore.
As for the future? Given what we saw Saturday, I say what the heck, let Gardner move back to quarterback full-time in the spring and let someone (Shane Morris, Russell Bellomy) beat him out for the job. That's where he wants to play, he's been very clear about it. As for Hoke's message of "it was always the plan" to move him back? I'm really not completely sure how much I buy that. It's easy to say it now immediately after Gardner performed so well and Bellomy performed so bad.
I have to think part of Gardner's acceptance of the wide receiver position was Hoke's word that he'd get a shot at quarterback again -- and now, given his last outing, Hoke has no choice but to honor that word.
Now's your chance to weigh in. Would you stick with Gardner at quarterback after his performance against Minnesota, or move him back to receiver? And what would you do with him next year? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.