Michigan Football will begin spring practice on Feb. 25 and the annual spring game will be played on Apr. 5 at Michigan Stadium. This edition of our spring preview will focus on the quarterbacks.
The quarterback position and potential starter for next year remains a hot-button issue for many Michigan fans after the disappointing 2013 season. With the young talent more suited to Brady Hoke’s preferred pro-style offense, many feel that it is an ideal time to make the transition from Devin Gardner to Shane Morris especially due to the success new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier enjoyed with AJ McCarron at Alabama. I feel that with the youth in the offensive line, in addition to losing your two most experienced starters in Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, that Devin Gardner is the obvious choice. He has the ability to escape and make plays with his feet on a more consistent basis than the other quarterbacks on the team. Lets take a look at the strengths and weaknesses each candidate brings to the table.
Devin Gardner (RS Sr, 6-4, 210): Gardner had a rough season behind an offensive line that rarely gave him the time to read through his progressions consistently. Often, there were drops by receivers as well (5 by Devin Funchess in one game). However, there were also many examples of Gardner missing open receivers or putting to much touch on the ball when it required a bullet. Without his favorite and most reliable target in Jeremy Gallon, Gardner will have to improve his accuracy and decision making while working with a young receiving group. This is very achievable, coach Nussmeier recently said he was excited to work with Gardner and his “unlimited athletic ability.” He added that he believes Gardner is primed for big things in the upcoming season, not a bad endorsement from a guy that has coached quarterbacks of all different skill sets with tremendous success. The athletic ability Nussmeier mentions is precisely why Gardner will win the starting job next season as he adds a dynamic that is difficult to defend, especially with a young offensive line and group of running backs and receivers.
Shane Morris (So, 6-3, 201): After the performance in the Buffalo WIld Wings Bowl, many believed that Morris had a legitimate shot at taking over the starting job. He still does, but the performance in the bowl game left a lot to be desired. We did see examples of the rocket arm and athletic ability with a 40-yard run late in the fourth quarter. But if you look at the performance statistically, it did not match the hype it received. Morris was 24/38 for 196 yards, only averaging 5.2 yard per completion. That isn’t necessarily his fault, as the game plan was probably centered around short passes to build his confidence. But it is also important to consider that a team led by Gardner averaged 33.8 points per game throughout the regular season scored only 14 in a bowl game against a defense that gave up 22.9 points per game with a month to prepare for it. Morris successfully led the offense into the red zone twice in the first half but only came out with two field goals. In the future, I believe Morris will be a very successful quarterback for the program especially with another year learning to prepare and practice without playing. But for now, I think he will be best served learning under coach Nussmeier and starting the 2015 season.
Russell Bellomy (RS Jr, 6-3, 215): Bellomy appeared in five games in 2012, including a disastrous performance at Nebraska in which he completed 3 of 16 passes for 38 yards and three interceptions. He was penciled in to be the primary back up again last year, but suffered a season-ending ACL injury in spring practice. He will compete for playing time and, along with Gardner, he will provide a veteran presence for this group.
Wilton Speight (Fr, 6-6, 230): Speight is an early enrollee and will participate in spring practice. His size alone warrants attention as he towers over the line and can see the whole field beautifully. He is accurate and intelligent in his decision making, again lending perfectly to the pro-style offense Hoke dreams of. I believe coach Nussmeier can turn this kid into something special if he sticks around for long enough. Speight and the Wolverines’ would be best served if he were redshirted for the upcoming season, preserving the eligibility of the future QB so fans in Ann Arbor can reap the benefits of his play for an extra year although it is nearly impossible to tell how successful he will be until he steps on the field.