As with much of the final month of last season for Gardner, the result was unsurprising. The pass was complete.
Gardner insisted even after he took over the starting quarterback’s role after Denard Robinson’s injury last season it was still Robinson’s team, that he was a placeholder of sorts, a capable fill-in until the record-setting Michigan quarterback could return. Except, as everyone now knows, Robinson never returned as a full-time quarterback, giving Gardner and Michigan a quick jump start on this spring and a conversion to the pro style offense two-plus seasons in the making.
The 6-foot-4 quarterback has begun to take advantage now that it is his team, his position to lose and an offense that fits his skills. He watches a copy of every spring practice at least twice. He has spent time watching cutups of NFL quarterbacks Jason Campbell, whom offensive coordinator Al Borges coached at Auburn, and other NFL teams in an effort to learn a little bit of everything.
“I took it upon myself to watch those guys and see how well they are doing in a pro-style setting,” Gardner said. “It would be sinister for me not to watch those guys.”
All of the preparation for watching other quarterbacks is in part to help accelerate the learning curve. A redshirt junior with only five career starts, Gardner showed potential over those final five games, completing 75 of 126 passes for 1,219 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. But for him to really thrive and reach his goal of being a quarterback in the NFL, he has to improve.
It is why he’ll sometimes send a text message to Borges looking to add something to the expanding Michigan playbook -- waggle passes are a personal favorite -- or go over something with him he saw during his own private film study.
“He has done a nice job,” Hoke said. “Wrapping his arms around his responsibilities.”
Part of that responsibility has been understanding the need to fill in for where Robinson left off as a leader. Teams naturally look to their quarterbacks anyway as an almost de facto offensive leader and Gardner’s personality helps that along.
His style is the opposite of most coaches and even other players. He will rarely call out a player in practice -- trash talking is something else; he’ll gladly do a lot of that -- but will often explain something to a player off to the side.
It comes from his own personal preference. He would prefer not to be called out by a teammate in front of everyone, so why should he do it to others.
“He’s done a great job using his personality and his humor to lead this team and help, especially with the receivers, the younger guys Amara Darboh and Jehu [Chesson],” senior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. “Those guys have really learned a lot from him.
“He’s your starting quarterback now.”