Michigan Wolverines: Brian Cleary

Two weeks in and the No. 11 Michigan football team is 2-0. With a relatively easy few weeks, the Wolverines could be headed into their matchup at Penn State with a 5-0 record. It’s shaping up to be quite the season, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions. We do the mailbag every Wednesday, so make sure you get your questions in early and often (Twitter: @chanteljennings, email: jenningsespn@gmail.com) for the chance to see them here.

[+] EnlargeGraham
Eric Bronson/Icon SMIHow good would Michigan's defense look if it could put Brandon Graham in the lineup again?
1. Jacob Mangum, Tampa, Florida: What former U-M player would you bring back to play on this year's defense and why?

A: I think the obvious choice here is Charles Woodson. Why wouldn’t you bring him back? He’s the only defensive player who has ever won the Heisman, and the Wolverines’ secondary could use a playmaker like him. I can only imagine what Greg Mattison would do with this defense if he had a cornerback like Woodson. However, if we’re talking someone who’s more recent to the program, I’d maybe pick Brandon Graham or another defensive lineman to help up front as the Wolverines try to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. At Michigan, Graham recorded 56 tackles for a loss, including 29.5 sacks. His athleticism up front would pick up the defensive line immediately.

2. David Weber, Burlington, Ontario: What was the impact of the game, atmosphere on the recruits that were on hand Saturday? What are you hearing?

A: I spoke with our Big Ten recruiting reporter Tom VanHaaren, and he has heard only good things. I mean, seriously, how many of the 115,000 plus fans there were ready to commit after that game? The football was impressive, and that’s a huge takeaway, but it’s also important to consider everything around the football. The experience as a whole was totally unique and something I don’t see other programs matching. As the recruits walked in to the stadium through the tunnel, they had people waiting to high five them the entire way to their seats. Add on to that the flyover, the halftime show (complete with a personalized message to Michigan from Beyoncé), the flashing lights and the whole feel of the evening.

3. Bhugh215 via Twitter: Obviously Gardner will be receiving some serious Heisman recognition, but at what point do we pull him versus Akron?

A: Akron has lost 27 consecutive games on the road, and they allowed 498 yards of offense last weekend to James Madison. Suffice it to say the Wolverines should be putting up huge numbers this weekend. Michigan pulled quarterback Devin Gardner with a 43-point lead over Central Michigan in its season opener, and I’d imagine they’d do something similar this week, though maybe something more in the range of 35 or so. The scary thought, though, is that the Wolverines realistically could get that kind of a lead before halftime, especially if Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo and Fitzgerald Toussaint are firing on all cylinders. I think it’s even possible they could pull back-up quarterback Shane Morris at some point later in the game to allow third-string QB Brian Cleary the chance to get some game snaps, as well.

4. Ryan Massengill via Twitter: Iowa, Indiana, and Purdue have non-conference losses unfortunately, will we see any more non-conference losses in B1G Ten?

A: Not from Michigan, but across the conference as a whole, I think we absolutely will. In Week 3, Purdue has a night game against No. 21 Notre Dame; No. 23 Nebraska hosts No. 16 UCLA; No. 20 Wisconsin travels to Arizona State; and Illinois hosts No. 19 Washington. In Week 4, Michigan State travels to Notre Dame. The Spartans defense probably will be able to give Tommy Rees a few issues, but the Irish defense will do the same (if not more) to Michigan State’s quarterback. And a week later Purdue will face an impressive Northern Illinois team that already took down one Big Ten opponent in Iowa.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Michigan defensive line calls itself the heart of the team. But after a season in which the unit registered only 22 sacks it kind of seemed like the Wolverines’ heart was on life support.

“The thought of it, it’s like a sick feeling that comes about myself,” defensive end Frank Clark said.

Stanford led the nation in sacks with 57. Tulsa had 53, and Arizona State registered 52. Michigan didn’t even make the top 50 nationally for sacks, while four other Big Ten teams did -- Penn State (T-15th), Ohio State (T-28th), Indiana (46th) and Nebraska (48th).

Historically, the Wolverines are a very good team at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Being outpaced by teams like Indiana (which won just two Big Ten games last season) is not something that will stand.

So when defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery left at the end of last season, head coach Brady Hoke and defensive line coach Greg Mattison decided that they would take over the line themselves and they’ve seen advancements.

“I think some of the game work that Coach Mattison has done with them and the pass-rush stuff that he's really done a great job with them, teaching the techniques,” Hoke said. “You see that coming. You know, there's some guys that obviously have some very good ability who have been very good pass rushers, but as a whole I think there's a lot of improvement."

The team threw itself back into the fundamentals and focused on becoming a better line as a whole and individually. Clark said the team is watching game tape constantly and showing improvement.

“From spring to now, I believe we’ve become a way better pass rushing team, especially with the four-man pass rush,” Clark said. “You’ve got some guys in there, especially some of the younger guys who want to step up and they’ve become guys who have bought in to that four-man pass rush mentality.”

The team hasn’t set goals for how many sacks they’d like to get this season or how many they’d like to finish with after their first scrimmage this Saturday.

And it has been a little difficult for the Wolverines to truly count that number considering Michigan is going through camp with its quarterbacks in a non-contact agreement with the defense.

With so little depth at the quarterback position the Wolverines are doing their best to keep Devin Gardner healthy. While the no-contact rule has been helpful for the quarterbacks, it has been frustrating for the D-line at times.

Even when they break through, they can only run past Gardner or his back ups, Shane Morris and Brian Cleary. But, Clark said the team is keeping track in their own ways, knowing when they could’ve or should’ve had a sack.

“I’ll let DG know, I tap him on the behind really hard or come back after the play and let him know. I whisper in his ear, ‘I’m coming back,’ ” Clark said. “I tell Taylor [Lewan], I say it to him a little bit.”

The Wolverines will be hungry to actually hit a quarterback by the time the season opener rolls around at the end of August. However, whether this “heart of the team” will be pumping fully or in need of a surgeon remains to be seen.
Devin GardnerAP Photo/Carlos OsorioFor Michigan to have success, it needs junior quarterback Devin Gardner to stay healthy and make plays because the depth chart behind him is a bit scary.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Meet Devin Gardner. No. Seriously. You should. And if you like Michigan, you really should look into protecting him as much as possible in every situation imaginable.

The one non-negotiable thing about Michigan’s season is if Gardner is hurt for any length of time, the Wolverines’ chances of winning any of those games almost disappears. Any Michigan offense without Gardner this season would be an adventure in experimentation at best.

So go buy some bubble wrap, pad the walls of his apartment or whatever else you want to make sure a random tree branch doesn't fell him. Michigan’s players, though, realize they can’t stop a random injury from occurring. They have enough faith Gardner can take care of himself.

“Random, freak injury, you can’t really control that,” senior receiver Drew Dileo said. “We look out for each other but if Devin rolls his ankle on a little bitty rock, I can’t control that. And vice versa.

“If I slip on the ice in the snow, I can’t control that.”

In other words, there won’t be an entourage accompanying Gardner to any of his graduate school classes this semester -- at least not for protective purposes.

Michigan can control how it uses Gardner during practices in the preseason. While the Wolverines aren’t isolating their starting quarterback or keeping him from making plays -- the repititions are too important for what he and Michigan hope to do this season -- having no healthy backup quarterback with even one snap of experience means more early practice snaps for freshman Shane Morris and redshirt freshman walk-on Brian Cleary.

It also keeps Gardner safe on the sideline.

Gardner might not be the most polished quarterback in the Big Ten or the most talented player on his own team -- that is left tackle Taylor Lewan. That lack of depth behind him, though, makes him more critical than any other player.

“He’s an important factor to the offense here,” senior receiver Jeremy Gallon said. “He has to set a tempo. He will set a tempo. His demeanor to the game is very important to us. How he comes out and performs and he’s willing to work hard for the team.

“That’s very important.”

Equally important is the lack of depth behind Gardner, which is why he is the most important player to stay healthy in the entire Big Ten. One could argue Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, but the Buckeyes have an experienced, serviceable backup in senior Kenny Guiton. But for what Michigan wants to do this season, it is Gardner -- and then a shoulder shrug of what would happen if he weren’t in the game.

So keeping Gardner upright and healthy is of supreme importance in Ann Arbor.

“That’s pretty obvious. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory,” Michigan receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said. “Obviously we need to keep Devin healthy and that falls on all of us. Not just the offensive line, but the tight ends and wideouts getting open down the field in time so he doesn’t have to hold the ball and the running backs protecting him.”

The coaching staff doesn’t want to limit Gardner’s progress, though. If they start to have him lighten up in practice, it becomes almost an omen setting Gardner up for injury because they believe players are injured when they aren’t going hard enough and are concerned about it.

Gardner isn’t worried. He just keeps playing as he always has.

“I’m the same person on the field, practicing as hard as I can,” Gardner said. “Taylor [Lewan] sometimes tells me not to make certain cuts, but that’s just the way I play. You can’t get ready for the game unless you play the full speed, the way you’re going to play.”

Other than Lewan, Gardner said the only one who told him to maybe take it a little easy was Michigan’s strength and conditioning coach, Aaron Wellman.

Everyone else? They just want Gardner to play like he did over the final five games of last season, or even an improved version of that player. Keeping Gardner healthy does add a small amount of pressure, especially for those entrusted with protecting him.

“We have to make sure we are on our game with that pass protection-wise,” senior right tackle Michael Schofield said. “We don’t really verbalize it. That’s just kind of known.”

One day Morris or Cleary could end up as a good starting quarterback for Michigan. But for this season, the Wolverines have only one healthy non-freshman scholarship quarterback. They only have one quarterback who has any game experience. One quarterback who is designated and looked to as a leader.

That’s Devin Gardner. Michigan’s season rests on his health.

Backup QB a battle at Michigan

August, 9, 2013
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As Michigan moves its camp into padded practices the rest of the way, the Wolverines will be able to start to really discern which position battles are actually competitions and which are going to be wrapped up rather quickly.

[+] EnlargeBrian Cleary
Courtesy of Michigan Athletic DepartmentBrian Cleary is going toe-to-toe with Michigan's heralded QB recruit for the backup job.
Of a lengthy list of position competitions for a team still finishing its rebuilding stages in its third year under Brady Hoke, perhaps the second most-important battle lies between two players who might see less than 25 snaps combined this season.

The backup quarterback.

When Russell Bellomy tore his ACL in the spring, Michigan’s quarterback depth turned into junior starter Devin Gardner and then a morass of inexperience. Competitors either were not on campus yet (freshman Shane Morris) or had never played a meaningful snap (walk-ons Brian Cleary and, less so, Alex Swieca). And once Michigan declined to sign a junior college or fifth-year transfer, that became the lot behind Gardner.

An open competition with no player really having any advantage over the other. Four days in, it's still neck-and-neck between Cleary and Morris.

“They are both doing really well, splitting the two reps,” Gardner said. “If one guy made a great pass, the next guy will make a great pass again so I’m glad I’m not the coach. I can’t really decide which one.”

The decision will eventually come to Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges. Coming out of the spring, Cleary established himself as the backup, but Morris had been around the program even as a high school recruit at nearby De La Salle High in Warren, Mich. He didn’t enroll early but had been prepping for this moment since he committed almost two years ago.

The long-term commitment, plus his locale, allowed him be on campus often to pick up things from his coaches. He isn’t the first Michigan quarterback to do this. Gardner enrolled early in 2010. Drew Henson, perhaps Michigan’s most famous quarterback recruit in history, spent his afternoons in the spring of 1998 on campus trying to learn the playbook before his freshman year.

So Morris is not the typical freshman. He understands things a bit more.

“I would say he is (ahead of the curve),” Hoke said. “It’s great to have a smart quarterback. Being a smart quarterback and being a wise quarterback under heat time with guys chasing you around and decisions you make, that’s two different things.

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Miller Safrit/ESPNShane Morris has taken advantage of living close to campus to get a head start on school.
“That’s what we’ll see more of from this point on.”

Thus far, Michigan has seen fairly accurate passers. Gardner said the three quarterbacks -- himself, Cleary and Morris -- completed almost every pass in a recent 7-on-7 drill. And while defenders can pick up obvious differences between Gardner and the two backups, the difference between Morris and Cleary is negligible.

“Devin has really come into his role, playing with the game experience he had last year,” middle linebacker Desmond Morgan said. “Shane’s just a freshman coming in. Brian’s a guy who didn’t play in any games or anything last year.

“So just the comfortableness of being in and seeing the defense, things like that.”

This is Michigan’s situation right now. In one aspect, it is good for the Wolverines because two inexperienced quarterbacks are forced to receive more of a chance than they would have if Bellomy had not torn up his knee in the spring.

It forced Michigan into an uncomfortable position -- but one which will give two unknowns more reps than they ever would have received before. Plus, with Gardner as the entrenched starter with no chance of movement unless there is an injury, Michigan can take its time making its decision of who would go in if Gardner ever has to go out.

“I would say because you do know the guy who you are expecting to start the season with,” Hoke said. “You in some ways can give a few more snaps to that competition area where who is number two.”
As Michigan’s preseason approaches at the end of this week, WolverineNation takes a look at the 10 players who are most indispensable for the Wolverines this season. This doesn’t mean the most talented players, but rather the players, if Michigan lost them, would be in the most trouble.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Devin Gardner’s future -- at Michigan, in football -- was an enigma a season ago. Would he be a quarterback? A wide receiver? Could he realistically transition from throwing passes to catching them and if he did, would he be the deep threat Michigan was missing.

He was, kind of. Gardner proved to be a capable wide receiver last season, but when Denard Robinson injured the ulnar nerve in his right arm, ending his time as a quarterback, Michigan and Gardner found the deep passing threat it had lacked since Brady Hoke and Al Borges took over at Michigan.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan heads to Big Ten media days in Chicago this week and, like 11 other teams, the Wolverines have a bunch of optimism and are likely anticipating a lot of the questions they’ll get over two days.

Last season, Michigan heard a lot about following up a surprisingly strong first season under Brady Hoke and SEC speed, considering the Wolverines opened against Alabama in Arlington, Texas. Michigan was confident then.

A little over a month and a blowout later, Michigan’s chances at a national title were history.

There won’t be that type of talk this season -- either of the SEC or national championship variety -- over the next few days. But here are five questions that will likely be asked and probably not fully answered about Michigan.

1. Who will be Michigan’s running back?

[+] EnlargeMichigan's Fitz Toussaint
Rick Osentoski/US PRESSWIREThe health of Fitzgerald Toussaint and the depth chart at running back will be a certain topic of conversation at Big Ten media days.
The obvious answer is Michigan has no idea yet. It knows who the candidates are (Fitzgerald Toussaint, Derrick Green, Deveon Smith, Drake Johnson and Thomas Rawls) but considering two of the top candidates -- Toussaint and Green -- weren’t available in the spring, there is a still a big unknown. While Michigan has other questions across its team, this one could be the most important. Why? If Michigan can’t find a reliable running back, it would put more pressure on quarterback Devin Gardner and his receivers and tight ends to make plays. Plus, it would put Gardner and the passing offense in a situation where there would be a lot of second-and-long and third-and-long situations.

2. How will Michigan cope without Denard Robinson?

The Wolverines gave a peek at that answer the last third of last season when Robinson injured the ulnar nerve in his right arm. Still, what Gardner and offensive coordinator Al Borges ran over the final month of the regular season was still a very basic version of what Michigan could use now. Expect to see more play action, more running the ball and a more pro-style offense. Borges -- and Brady Hoke -- have always favored this. That’s the general answer. Exactly what Michigan’s offense will look like, including wrinkles specifically for Gardner, will be unveiled in the fall.

3. What happens if Devin Gardner gets hurt (or, who is Michigan’s backup quarterback)?

Again, the answer is somewhat known. The first answer, for Michigan, would be to have major concerns. Gardner is the only healthy quarterback on the roster who has any significant game experience. With Russell Bellomy sidelined with a torn ACL, his backup is either freshman Shane Morris or a pair of walk-ons, Alex Swieca or Brian Cleary. As Michigan did not secure a fifth-year graduate transfer or a junior college transfer, it will look to one of those inexperienced players if Gardner goes down. Of anything else that could happen to Michigan this season, this would be high on the list of concerns.

4. Who is pressuring the quarterback for Michigan’s defense?

Yet another viable question. Linebacker Jake Ryan, MIchigan’s leader in tackles for loss last season, is out indefinitely with a torn ACL. The school is hopeful he can return by midseason. Along the defensive line, inexperience remains. Tackle Quinton Washington is a fifth-year senior,\ but has never been the focal point of the line. Ends Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia have talent, but have not put things together consistently. The rest of the options have barely played. Considering Michigan’s issues with its defensive front and quarterback pressure a season ago, more inexperience will remain a concern until proven differently, no earlier than Aug. 31 in the season opener against Central Michigan. Michigan, though, will likely say it likes its defensive line.

5. How often will Brady Hoke call Ohio State “Ohio?”

The answer is, well, every time. Entering his third year, the whole thing has worn a little thin. But the over/under here on how many questions he receives about Ohio State, Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller is around 30 throughout the two days. Add in rivalry questions and that’ll probably bump it up to 40. Apparently Hoke’s phrasing for Ohio State is catching on as Florida coach Will Muschamp called Ohio State “Ohio” at SEC media days last week.

WolverineNation Mailbag 

June, 25, 2013
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It’s almost July, which means you only have about a month until Michigan starts fall camp and Brady Hoke can tell you (via us) every week that players are competing, football is being played and that Michigan, fergodsakes, is Michigan. Regardless, there are still questions, which is why I’m here.

Mike will be taking care of the mailbag next week so send your questions to him (michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com, @mikerothstein). Now, on to this week’s questions…

1. Spenser Williams, Ann Arbor: Michigan and Ohio State are tearing it up on the recruiting trail, but what can the rest of the Big Ten do to catch up to them and make the Big Ten an elite conference?

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Spring practice has ended for Michigan and for the first time, the depth chart for the fall is beginning to take shape.

Yes, there will still be some big competitions on Michigan’s offense -- particularly at running back and wide receiver -- but there is now a better idea of who the Wolverines’ starting 11 will be in August when they open the season against Central Michigan.

WolverineNation takes a two-day look at what Michigan’s depth chart will be come fall, starting with the offense.


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Ideally, this conversation would not happen at Michigan or many other BCS-level programs this fall or any fall. But, things occur because of injuries, attrition and coaching switches so it leads to college coaches looking at guys they recruit and saying the same thing.

Which one of these guys will be able to play right away?

In basketball this is a way of life. In football it can get dangerous, depending on the competition. As Michigan builds up its roster, it has had to rely on freshmen less and less, but this season the Wolverines still will need to look to some first-year players to be key contributors on offense and defense.

Here’s a look at five freshmen -- or spots -- where you could see rookies this fall.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s spring practice has ended and now the long wait for the Wolverines begin.

Michigan has a little over four months until its first game of the 2013 season against Central Michigan, and while the Wolverines still have some issues to deal with between now and then -- backup quarterback and running back among them -- some things stood out from the final, and only public, scrimmage of the spring.

Here are five strong takeaways from the last spring practice that Michigan can look at with comfort or concern heading into the offseason.

Taylor Lewan
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsTackle Taylor Lewan and the left side of Michigan's line stood out in the final spring scrimmage.
1.Michigan will be better than expected on the offensive line. The talent level was evident even before Saturday’s open practice, and there was never a concern they wouldn’t be good. And yes, there were points on Saturday where Michigan’s defensive linemen blew right by their offensive counterparts, especially the guards. But the core group of six linemen -- tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, center Jack Miller and guards Kyle Kalis, Ben Braden and Graham Glasgow -- all had moments of looking like a cohesive unit by the fall. The left-side combination of Lewan and Braden specifically stood out, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Michigan run a lot toward its left side this season. Considering Michigan ran a fairly base offense ,and defenses are usually ahead of offenses in spring games, this is a good sign for the Wolverines entering this fall.

2.Fitzgerald Toussaint, Derrick Green or Deveon Smith will be the starter in the fall. Michigan’s running back group was OK, but not overly impressive Saturday -- echoing what coaches have said all spring when no one separated himself. Justice Hayes got the start and had a couple of decent runs, but was also crushed in the backfield a lot. Thomas Rawls scored a 14-yard touchdown on a run to the left side and again showed flashes of his potential, but he didn't look much different from last year’s spring game. Dennis Norfleet has potential, but his size is still a concern for being an every-down back. All this means is the initial thought that Michigan’s starter will come from the backs either returning or coming in during the summer remains the likely scenario.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Despite the weather feeling more appropriate for a late November Michigan-Ohio State matchup, the quality of play was clearly that of a team in spring ball.

Coaches were on the field and the stands were sparse. And the fact that it wasn’t a real game was only highlighted by the fact that the quarterbacks wore bright orange uniforms signifying the no contact on QBs spring game.

But there were a few times -- from one player in particular, early enrollee Taco Charlton -- that pressure broke through the offensive line and took down backup quarterback Brian Cleary.

“Freshman,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said in the post-scrimmage press conference with a smile and a shake of his head.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Brian Cleary, Michigan’s current backup quarterback, was extremely close to not being in Ann Arbor at all.

How close? He was admitted -- and planned on attending -- another school when Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges called then-University of Detroit Jesuit coach Jeff Putnam in the late spring and early summer of 2012 inquiring about Cleary’s availability.

Putnam said Cleary was going to Notre Dame. Not to play or walk on, but as a regular college student.

Maybe he’d quarterback the football team at Dillon Hall since they play tackle football as dorms at the school. Now the redshirt freshman is potentially one snap away from being the starting quarterback at Michigan.

Borges called Putnam and explained the Wolverines were lacking quarterback depth and could be in the position through 2014. Plus, Michigan liked Cleary’s film.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Michigan fan base breathed a sigh of relief last week when Devin Gardner was awarded a medical redshirt, giving him an extra year with the Wolverines. That means he will be a redshirt junior next fall, and in 2014, he'll be a redshirt senior -- prompting some prognosticators to give the Wolverines a shot at the Big Ten and national titles that season.

It was a huge boost to Brady Hoke and the Wolverines, but it also has been a help on the recruiting trail.

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