Denard Robinson was one of the most exciting players in college football during his career at Michigan, and he was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. In his first year as a starter under Rich Rodriguez he had an amazing statistical season running the spread offense that was tailored to his skill set perfectly. When Rodriguez was fired and the Wolverines hired Al Borges as offensive coordinator, many wondered how Robinson would fit in Borges’ pro-style offense. It was never a perfect fit, and it was obvious that Robinson was uncomfortable running the offense and Borges was uncomfortable calling plays.
This year Devin Gardner will enter as the starter after his first offseason as the primary quarterback. Gardner showed glimpses of greatness last year, starting the final five games of the season finishing with a quarterback rating of 161.7 which would have blown away Taylor Martinez‘s Big Ten leading 141.6 if he played an entire season. What makes his season even more impressive is Gardner was a wide receiver last offseason and the first eight games of the regular season. Gardner was the #1 rated dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school and fits the mold perfectly for the offense Borges wants to run. At 6’4″ with a very strong arm he can see over big linemen and deliver the ball down field. He also has great knowledge of the routes his receivers are running aided by his time playing the position. Though not as electric as Robinson, Gardner is plenty athletic and will keep defenses honest due to his running ability. Where he differs from Robinson is he is a pass first, run second quarterback, and he often uses his athleticism to buy time in the pocket allowing receivers to get open. The biggest difference and what sets him apart from Robinson is his accuracy and footwork. Gardner looks like a quarterback whereas Robinson looked more like a running back forced to play out of position.
Borges will finally be able to run his offense the way he envisions it, and Michigan will be more balanced and much better as evidenced by the final five games in 2012. Based off of his performance last season in the games he started and the work he’s putting in this offseason, expect Gardner to improve and challenge Braxton Miller and Martinez as the best quarterback in the Big Ten.