ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s quarterback spot was supposed to be a strength this season and at times, the Wolverines had great gains from the spot, whether Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner was at the position.
But with those gains also came some surprises, be it the strong play of a guy who started the season as a wide receiver or the lack of progression from Robinson, who was touted by coaches to have made a massive leap in how he made his decisions during the offseason.
With that said, here’s a look at the good, the bad and the future of the quarterback at Michigan.
Over the last four games of the season, Gardner showed exactly why he was the No. 5-ranked quarterback in the class of 2010. With the job his after Robinson went down to injury and with a week to prepare as the starter, Gardner transformed from a backup and a wide receiver into someone who had a major future at the position. In four games this season, Gardner has completed 57 of 90 passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has rushed for seven touchdowns.
Gardner’s emergence also appeared to revitalize Michigan’s wide receivers, particularly Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon. Roundtree has had more yards in the last four games (378) than he did during the entire 2011 season (355). Gallon, meanwhile, has four or more catches in every game Gardner has started at quarterback.
Robinson had an average season at the position, completing 89 of 166 passes for 1,319 yards, nine touchdowns and nine interceptions during his eight starts before being sidelined with a right ulnar nerve injury. There were times where Robinson was electric and other times, like against Michigan State, where he appeared to manage the game well.
Robinson still managed to break records -- he now holds Michigan’s total offense, total touchdowns and has the top eight total offense games in school history along with the Big Ten quarterback rushing mark -- but didn’t have nearly the season he likely hoped to have.
Robinson threw interceptions on four consecutive passes against Notre Dame, a major part of why the Wolverines lost to the Irish, who went on to have an undefeated season. Russell Bellomy was inserted into the game against Nebraska after Robinson’s injury, missed on his first 10 passes, threw three interceptions, was pressured countless times and never found any sort of rhythm.
Bellomy’s struggles against the Cornhuskers -- and to be fair to him, it was a really difficult spot to be thrust into -- only accentuated the decision of the coaching staff to move Gardner to wide receiver full-time, especially knowing the injury history of Robinson.
Michigan was put in a tough position because of lack of receiver depth and talent and wanting to get Gardner on the field in some way, and he wasn’t replacing Robinson at the beginning of the season. So it made this decision, one that ended up backfiring and potentially costing them a berth in the Big Ten championship game.
The immediate future is Gardner, who likely will be the starter next season for a Michigan team facing at least a partial rebuild and a transition to a true pro-style offense that both Brady Hoke and Al Borges prefer to run. Over the past month, Gardner has proven to be a strong-armed quarterback with some good touch and ability to make what Borges calls “the third play,” which is turning something out of nothing when a called play breaks down.
Beyond Gardner, Michigan still has Bellomy and incoming freshman Shane Morris, both of whom will be fighting for the backup role. The long-term future likely is with Morris, the No. 54 player and No. 4 pocket passer in his class.