- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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For several weeks this season, some Michigan fans were calling for the replacement of quarterback Devin Gardner. Many believed that freshman Shane Morris might be able to run the offense better and they wanted to see what would happen if he were given that chance.
That might just happen in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Gardner, who has a turf toe injury, has yet to participate in Michigan’s bowl practices and hasn’t done true on-field work since the Ohio State game, though he has thrown a little bit. Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Gardner could be out of practices for another week, not getting on the field again until the team is practicing in Arizona next Monday.
“We just want to make sure that he’s rested enough and don’t want him to get out there too soon,” Hoke said.
Hoke said that the staff is being cautious with Gardner, making sure that he’s “totally healthy” before he returns to practice.
Gardner missing practice doesn’t bother Hoke very much since the redshirt junior has so much experience.
Hoke didn’t feel comfortable calling Gardner’s status “questionable” for the bowl game, but he also isn’t 100 percent confident that his starting QB will be ready on Dec. 28.
If Gardner isn’t ready the Wolverines would turn to Morris, who has only appeared in three games this season, attempting just six passes.
Hoke said that he’d feel confident if Morris were the Wolverines’ quarterback against Kansas State. The staff throws the younger guys early in bowl practices to get them extra reps so Morris expected to see more time then. It’s unlikely he expected to be running with them full time.
But these experiences will aid Morris greatly, whether he’s commanding the offense at the end of the month in Arizona, next season or a few years down the road.
“It obviously has helped him with the number of reps he’s getting, I think it has helped him in the framework of the offense,” Hoke said. “We did team pass [on Monday], which is a little different than straight skelly so you put a little more heat on him, a little more timing of routes, timing of drops -- all those things are a big part of it, and I think he has improved there.”
Morris -- the No. 8 quarterback in his 2013 class -- was known for his arm in high school football and on the camp circuit.
He hasn’t thrown against a college-level secondary, but the Kansas State defense game film isn’t the toughest Morris has seen.
The Wildcats’ opponents averaged 222 passing yards per game. However, in games against teams with experienced QBs with good arms, that number went up. Baylor’s Bryce Petty threw for three touchdowns and 332 yards against Kansas State. While Morris isn’t near the same level as Petty, the Bears’ QB showed that throwing against the Wildcats is quite doable so there would be opportunities for shots downfield.
And if the Wolverines were to play today, how would Hoke feel about starting a true freshman?
“I’d feel comfortable with him,” Hoke said. “I like his development.”
But he also likes the development -- health wise -- of his starter. And would obviously feel more comfortable with him in there.
“He has played a lot, so that’s a plus,” Hoke said. “He’s into the game plans, so that’s another thing that’s good.”
With what Gardner has endured this season and how he has fought back from each injury, it would be pretty surprising to see him miss the bowl game. However, it could be very interesting to see how the game would play out with someone as inexperienced as Morris.
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