Spring preview: Devin Gardner moves Michigan into post-Denard Robinson era
Michigan officially begins the post-Denard Robinson era Saturday when it opens spring camp with Devin Gardner at quarterback.
Gardner's performance last season has silenced doubts about how the Wolverines would fare without the talented Robinson, and in fact has some believing U-M could be better off without Shoelace.
But Robinson was the clear face of the team and its biggest star for the past three years. Replacing him should provide some interesting moments in camp, even if the starter is settled. And that starts with the full implementation of the pro-style offense.
Who they lose
Robinson rewrote the Michigan record books, accounting for a program-best 91 touchdowns and 10,776 total yards. He also set the all-time NCAA rushing mark for quarterbacks (4,495), surpassing Pat White's record in his career finale.
And now, the curtains have drawn on that memorable career.
But for as exhilarating as Robinson could be, he had moments just as maddening. Remember, although he set the Michigan record for touchdowns, he also set the record for interceptions (39).
His passing became so problematic as a senior, the Wolverines stripped down their playbook -- focusing on the run, and short passes when they did go to the air -- to mitigate his inconsistencies.
Michigan got a trial run of life without Robinson when the quarterback damaged a nerve in his elbow Oct. 27 against Nebraska, and never returned to full-time quarterback duties. Gardner supplanted him, offering a sneak peek into the future ...
Who they got back
... and that future appears bright.
Gardner posted some astronomical numbers, and did it largely on the fly. He began the year as a receiver, but moved under center after Robinson injured his elbow and immediately ripped the Minnesota defense for 255 total yards and three touchdowns.
He led a comeback win against Northwestern the following week, connecting with Roy Roundtree to set up a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation and then rushing for the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
He scored six touchdowns against Iowa, matching a school record.
He struggled in the second half in a loss at Ohio State, but then helped post 28 points in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina, which featured the country's 11th-best defense.
Gardner appears equipped to run the pro-style offense that Michigan prefers. He has a solid arm with plus accuracy, and already has developed a rapport with top wideout Jeremy Gallon (averaging more than six catches for 100 yards per game with Gardner).
And, of course, Gardner can run. He isn't explosive like Robinson, but is a physical runner who is difficult to bring down. That makes him a terror on third downs and in the red zone, two areas he should excel next season.
Sophomore Russell Bellomy also returns, and is the only other scholarship quarterback in spring camp. He's a candidate -- perhaps the leading candidate -- to back up Gardner.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges said Gardner's five-game run at quarterback last season allowed him to employ a "starter set" of plays from his pro-style offense.
Now, Michigan will work to fully implement that offense during spring camp.
Gardner will be the focus. But the rest of the offense will have to adjust as well, as the Wolverines revamp much of what they have done the past two years.
Michigan also will throw a lot at Bellomy as it determines whether the sophomore is capable of backing up Gardner. Coaches had said he was prepared to step in for Robinson last year, but he was an utter flop when tossed into action against Nebraska.
The Wolverines would probably prefer to redshirt incoming freshman Shane Morris. But for that to happen, they have to have confidence Bellomy can do the job.
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