Michigan Wolverines junior quarterback Devin Gardner played only five games at the position in 2012. This had as much to do with who was ahead of him — early season Heisman Trophy candidate Denard Robinson — as it did with Brady Hoke’s indecision about how to use the uber-talented 6-4, 210 pound Detroit native.
While he’s hardly a mystery — especially to Michigan fans who are abuzz about his prospects this fall — he isn’t a household name either, but if things play out as they should, Gardner could morph from a semi-kept secret to one of the nation’s most heralded players within a few weeks of college football kicking off.
In the five games he did play exclusively at quarterback in 2012, Gardner posted 1,219 yards passing with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, completing around 60% of his passes. He was sacked 11 times in five games– which signaled a need for better pocket presence and understanding of defensive packages– but both are certain to come with increased repetitions and summer work.
Gardner ran for almost as many touchdowns as he threw for in limited action (8), and many believe this number could tip in 2013 as his premium speed and athleticism will be an essential asset for the Wolverines to live up to the pre-season hype preceding them.
In terms of the conference, Gardner’s name will not be mentioned among the national media outlets nearly as often as Ohio State Buckeyes signal caller Braxton Miller (who many believe to be the pre-season Heisman front-runner) and Nebraska Cornhuskers nine-millionth-year starter Taylor Martinez who could finally breakthrough this fall and put up the type of numbers that have been expected of him since his arrival in Lincoln in what seems like ages ago.
If I’m guessing correctly, however, Gardner will take this “relative” anonymity as an opportunity to fine-tune his craft over the non-conference slate, and be ready to show what he can do when given the reins of a full season at quarterback when the Wolverines kick off their challenging Big Ten slate against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday, October 5th.
Big Ten defensive coordinators are may believe they are aware of what they will face with Devin Gardner, but with his unlimited athletic ability and an essentially clean state of undeveloped habits — both bad and good — the end product may be more threatening than they could have imagined.