Michigan Wolverines: Russell Bellomy

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

March, 26, 2014
Time for another round of your emails ...

@RevDJEsq via Twitter writes: You're made dictator of the B1G with power to implement three changes. What are they?

Brian Bennett: Lobster for everyone! All bowl games in Maui! Wait ... I only get to make three changes? What kind of weak dictator am I?

Anyway, to take your question a bit more seriously, I would have to look at changes that could realistically be made by a Big Ten über-commissioner. So I wouldn't have the power to make changes to NCAA rules unless I decided to break away from the NCAA entirely. (Thinking ... nah, let's not do that).

So in that spirit, I'd make the following three changes:
  • 1. No more 11 a.m. CT kickoffs and more night games: I get that TV dictates a lot of start times and the Big Ten likes having the early college football time slot as a showcase. But for schools in the Central Time Zone, those 11 a.m. starts are just way too early. It's hard to have any energy in the stadium when people have to wake up at dawn just to try and squeeze in some tailgating. So I'd make sure no game ever started before noon local time and I would work to get more games in primetime, including those in November.
  • 2. A 10-1-1 schedule: Let's go to 10 conference games. Yeah, you heard me. We've got 14 teams, and there's nothing better than league play, so why not have more of it? That would create balanced home-and-road schedules and lead to a truer Big Ten champ. Sure, it could hurt the conference when it comes to winning national titles, but it's not like the league has been piling those up anyway. The rest of the schedule would have to include one game against a team from the other four power leagues, plus one against any other FBS team. You want a bowl bid or a playoff berth? Fine. Earn it.
  • 3. Rotate the Big Ten title game: Indianapolis is a wonderful host for the Big Ten championship game. But there are a lot of other great cities in the Midwest that could do a great job. So let's have it in Chicago. Detroit. Minneapolis. Cleveland. Move it around and let other towns throw a big ol' Big Ten celebration. And have it in some cold weather every once in a while.

You might not agree with these decisions, but I'm the dictator here, so too bad. Now, bring me some more of your finest meats and cheeses!

Ryan from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Husker fans are just now starting to wake up to spring football now that basketball season has ended. With Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby all returning for the Huskers this fall, plus an exciting new weapon in redshirt freshman Adam Taylor, would you say Nebraska has one of the most dynamic, if not most talented, stable of running backs in the conference? How do you think it currently stacks up against other programs such as Wisconsin, Michigan, or Ohio State?

Brian Bennett: Yeah, Ryan, Baylor was about the worst thing to happen to Nebraska since Steve Pedersen, eh? Anyway, I really like Nebraska's group of running backs. Heck, if the Cornhuskers had only Abdullah, I'd still really like them because he is one of the best and toughest players in the country. I thought Cross would have a little bit bigger impact last season, but he still scored 10 touchdowns and is a very effective weapon in short yardage. Newby is very promising, and I'm interested to see what Taylor can add.

Nebraska almost always has great backs, so this is no surprise. I'd rank the Huskers slightly below Wisconsin, simply because the duo of Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement could be devastating. Penn State has some excellent depth and options, and Ohio State has talent that's unproven. But Nebraska is up there near the very top.

Jake from MTL writes: Hey, Brian, with all the talk of the Michigan QB competition, why hasn't anyone mentioned Russell Bellomy? Has he dropped put of the competition and I just never got the news?

Brian Bennett: Bellomy is still there, Jake, although some might have forgotten about him after he missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL he incurred in spring practice. He did play in five games in 2012 and famously took over for Denard Robinson in the loss at Nebraska. I just don't think it's realistic to believe he can overtake Devin Gardner or Shane Morris for the starting role, and Wilton Speight is the flavor of the month as the newcomer. But Bellomy can add some depth to the position if nothing else.

Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: Brian, a lot has been made recently, with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the B1G, that this provides a natural rivalry for Penn State. There has also been a lot of mention about these not being real "rivalries" because Penn State has owned both of those football programs based on past records. I for one am OK with PSU NOT having a true "rival." I understand that some schools have built up rivalries over the decades, but I do NOT understand why the media has seemingly forced fans to think that their schools NEED to have a rival. You can't force these things, or just say because school X and school Y are in close proximity they have to be rivals. I believe MOST PSU fans would prefer to have Pitt scheduled every year, to continue that former "rivalry", as many PSU fans were taught from a young age, "if you can't go to college, you can always go to Pitt."

Brian Bennett: I agree with you that Pitt is Penn State's true rival, even though those teams haven't played since 2000. I'm so happy to see that series resume in 2016 and hope it becomes an annual occurrence. Ohio State has been a quasi-rival with the Nittany Lions, and Maryland and Rutgers at least bring some neighborly feuding to the table. But there's not a ton of juice there yet. Rivalries are great because they just add so much more intensity to the games -- see the recent Michigan-Michigan State installments or any edition of Ohio State-Michigan. Penn State already has a great home environment and fervent following, but it would be fun to see more true rivalry games for that program.

Cam from Lansing, Mich., writes: Other than for obvious money reasons related to TV, etc., does the move to the Big Ten make sense for Maryland and Rutgers? I think no from a competitive standpoint. Everyone knows football is the big money-making sport in college athletics, and with Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State in the same division as Maryland and Rutgers, in your mind how much of a shot do they have at being competitive?

Brian Bennett: Well, that's interesting, because most people ask if the move was a good one for the Big Ten, not the other way around. You cannot discount the money angle here, because both Rutgers and Maryland were in dire financial straits, and the Big Ten provided a lifeboat. Rutgers also had to get out of the crumbling shack of a home that was the American Athletic Conference. I fear for the Scarlet Knights men's basketball program after watching how bad it was in the AAC, but the football program at least has a solid footing. Rutgers, however, could be in for some culture shock with the week-to-week grind of the Big Ten.

Maryland doesn't gain a whole lot competitively from the move to the Big Ten East out of the ACC. But the Terrapins were already in the same ACC division as Florida State and Clemson and would have faced occasional games with Notre Dame. So it's not like the Big Ten is going to be all that much more difficult. If things don't go well, those schools' administrators can comfort themselves with their new giant bags of cash.

Spring QB race breakdown: Michigan

February, 28, 2014
Nine Big Ten programs will feature true quarterback competitions this spring, and we're taking a closer look at the candidates, the circumstances and the stakes of each race. Up next: Michigan.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There’s a new offensive coordinator and scheme this spring for the Michigan offense.

The big question remains: Will the Wolverines have a new starting quarterback?

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsWith far more experience than his competitors, senior Devin Gardner is the favorite to start at quarterback for the Wolverines.
It looks to be a two-man race between fifth-year senior Devin Gardner and sophomore Shane Morris. Junior Russell Bellomy and early enrollee Wilton Speight are also on campus and will get reps.

Gardner, who injured his toe during the Ohio State-Michigan game in November, rehabbed quickly and practiced on Tuesday for the first day of spring practice. Michigan coach Brady Hoke was surprised to see how soon Gardner got back but said he “looked great."

Gardner, up a healthy 13 pounds from the end of the 2013 season, is excited to be back and compete.

And then there’s the young gun Morris, who, in his lone start of the season, showed plenty of poise -- something that Gardner certainly lacked at points last season. Morris stepped in for Gardner in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and had a solid showing. For new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, however, the 24 completions and 196 passing yards weren't the most impressive thing about Morris' performance.

“The thing you’re looking for, in my opinion, when you play a young player in a game like that is: is the game too big? Is the moment too big?” Nussmeier said. “And it wasn’t for him. He performed.”

It was the kind of performance many expected out of Morris. The highly publicized recruit was the player whom many fans called for when Gardner suffered tough stretches during 2013.

Through the first four games of the season Gardner accounted for eight interceptions -- the most of any FBS quarterback at that point -- as well as two fumbles. During that same stretch Michigan almost lost to Akron and Connecticut.

But during another four-game stretch -- the final four games of the regular season -- it was a completely different story. Gardner threw for 971 yards and eight touchdowns while not throwing a single interception. With the Michigan offensive line finally showing some chemistry, Gardner displayed that he could be a reliable QB.

Obviously last season’s performances are only a portion of the equation for next season's starting QB spot, but they can’t completely be overlooked because experience is so crucial when asking a QB to step in and lead an offense. Gardner will have the advantage when it comes to experience, but Morris is likely still confident after coming off such a good showing in Arizona.

In the past, Hoke has seemed to be loyal to his upperclassmen in certain position battles. But with a new coordinator coming in, Morris and Gardner begin on the same level and those relationships that most coaches have with their oldest players vs. their younger players just don’t exist.

Nussmeier said that he did watch more game film than practice film from last season so he has certainly seen more of Gardner than Morris, but now with spring practices started, he’s getting to see them in person.

Michigan won’t go full contact until after the Wolverines return from spring break on March 11. But even without going full contact, the evaluation process has begun. Nussmeier is able to see how quickly both Gardner and Morris have picked up the offense and verbiage, how they lead their teammates, their touch on passes and more.

“We’re going to evaluate it just like every other position on our offense,” Nussmeier said. “We’re going to create competition. We want guys to go out and compete. … It’s a new system for everybody.”

It’s hard to say how much of this quarterback controversy is completely true, however. The Wolverines start next season with two highly visible and highly anticipated games with Appalachian State (which beat Michigan in the season opener in 2007) and Notre Dame (the final schedule matchup between the two rivals).

Those are the kinds of games that most would want to see a veteran quarterback start in because those are the kinds of games where emotions could trump play. Gardner has been in those situations and helped to control his team’s emotions. And while Morris was certainly on a big stage in the bowl game, he wasn’t asked to throw many passes down the field. Most of his passing yardage was picked up by receivers after the catch.

At this point, with the ability Gardner has displayed in picking up new offenses and aspects of offenses -- moving from Rich Rodriguez’s spread to Al Borges’ quasi-spread, as well as a position move from quarterback to wide receiver and then back to quarterback -- the starting position seems to be Gardner’s to lose.

Now, Morris could have a breakout spring and make enough strides to really push Gardner for the job, but at this point as long as Gardner can compete fully in the live sessions after spring break he’ll likely be the starter when the Wolverines spring game rolls around on April 5.

And he thinks so, too.

“I feel like I’m the leader,” Gardner said. “I’m a competitor, so I’m going to compete. ... I’m the quarterback of this team.”
Spring football kicks off earlier than normal in the Big Ten, as Michigan takes the field Tuesday, Northwestern follows Wednesday and eight other squads begin their sessions by March 8.

The accelerated schedules seem appropriate in a league filled with players, coaches and teams itching for fresh starts.

New assistants get their first chance to repair struggling units, whether it's Doug Nussmeier with Michigan's offense, Brian Knorr with Indiana's defense or Chris Ash and Larry Johnson with a once-feared Ohio State defense. Quarterback competitions begin or resume at nine places, as new faces such as Illinois' Wes Lunt, Nebraska's Johnny Stanton and Minnesota's Chris Streveler enter the mix, while veterans like Wisconsin's Joel Stave and Michigan's Devin Gardner try to retain their starting jobs.

Happy Valley continues to buzz about new Penn State coach James Franklin, who seems to galvanize everyone whom he encounters. But Franklin barely has been around his new players and finally begins the real work with a team facing very real challenges.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesNorthwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald hopes his team can start a rebound from a disappointing, injury-riddled 2013 season.
Spring also allows teams such as Northwestern, Michigan, Purdue and Indiana to look forward after disappointing seasons. Michigan State, meanwhile, continues to bask in the Rose Bowl glow but looks toward its next goal -- a national championship -- as spring ball kicks off March 25.

"It's big-picture stuff, building relationships with the players and everyone associated with the program," Franklin told ESPN.com. "The other thing is laying a really good foundation with the philosophies and schemes of how we're going to do things. That's going to happen naturally over time, but I'm not the most patient person. I wish it would have happened yesterday."

Franklin doesn't water down his goals for Penn State, especially in recruiting, but he's also realistic about the challenges of a reduced roster. The Nittany Lions return strong pieces such as quarterback Christian Hackenberg and defensive back Adrian Amos, but the two-deep has some holes that Franklin and his assistants must address, while installing new schemes.

"It's one thing when you get put in this situation in the first place with limited scholarships," Franklin said, "but the longer you're in it, the more effect it has. We've got some depth issues, there's no doubt about it, across the board. We're going to have to get creative."

Northwestern also is focused on depth after being hit hard by key injuries in 2013. Pat Fitzgerald blames himself and his staff for failing to get enough second-stringers ready, which proved costly in close Big Ten losses.

After their first bowl-less winter in six years, the Wildcats responded well in the weight room, as more than 50 players recorded personal bests. Although 11 players will miss spring practice, including standout running back/returner Venric Mark, the depth should be better in areas like the secondary.

"We're really emphasizing taking ownership of the finish," Fitzgerald said. "Finishing your technique, finishing the call, finishing the route. There's a lot of disappointment in the way the program didn't take the next step forward."

Michigan coach Brady Hoke restructured the roles of his defensive assistants for 2014, but the Wolverines' offense will be in the spotlight this spring after a wildly inconsistent season. Gardner, who continues to recover from a foot injury and likely won't be 100 percent until midway through the spring, will compete with Shane Morris, Russell Bellomy and midyear enrollee Wilton Speight.

But other positions, such as offensive line, figure to be just as important as Michigan tries to achieve Hoke and Nussmeier's vision.

"We had good intentions as far as what we wanted our identity to be, but obviously I don't think it came out the way we'd like it to," Hoke said. "The quarterback position is as important as any, and we have a guy [Gardner] who is very talented and had some really good games and games where we had to protect him better, have a better run game and take pressure off of him, and I don't think we did."

While Michigan turns the page on offense, Ohio State focuses on a defense that allowed 115 points in its last three games and finished 110th nationally in pass yards allowed (268 YPG). The Buckeyes lost top defenders Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby, but they also added two accomplished assistants.

Johnson, who churned out NFL linemen during 18 years at Penn State, chose Ohio State instead of remaining in State College. Ash leaves a sole coordinator role at Arkansas for a co-coordinator role at Ohio State, where he'll work with the embattled Luke Fickell and others to mend the defense through a simplified scheme.

"Back in the day when Ohio State played great defense, you knew what you were going to get," Ash said. "They played with swagger, played with confidence, played with toughness. We have to get back to that. The simplicity of the things we're going to do will lead to faster players, more plays made and a more aggressive defense.

"I wasn't here [in 2013], but I can tell you what Coach Meyer has told me, what Luke Fickell has told me and what I watch on film. I can see there's some hesitation, there's some uncertainty. Why that is, I don't know. But it's my job to get it fixed."

Purdue has plenty to fix after a 1-11 season, and players not surprisingly are wearing T-shirts with the word "FORWARD" on the backs. Maryland and Rutgers move forward to a new conference after an offseason that saw several staff changes, including new coordinators at Rutgers (Ralph Friedgen, Joe Rossi).

There's a fresh start of sorts at Wisconsin, as a large and decorated senior class departs. Coach Gary Andersen's markings will be more obvious with his second team, which begins practice March 7.

Wisconsin is just one of many places where the top quarterback job is at stake. Lunt, who sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma State, competes with Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey at Illinois.

"Competition's competition, no matter where it's at," said Lunt, who has added about 15 pounds since his arrival and checks in at 225. "It's different because it’s different people, different coaches, but I'm excited for it."

He's not alone in the Big Ten. Spring ball can't start soon enough.
Spring football starts on Tuesday, and the competition for positions will begin under the watchful eyes of Brady Hoke and his staff. This week, we’re counting down five position battles that you should also keep an eye on during the next month.

No. 5: QB battle

Who’s in the mix: Shane Morris, Wilton Speight, Russell Bellomy

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallWill Devin Gardner be able to hold off the competition and win Michigan's starting QB job?
What to watch: Hoke said the starting QB job is open, but how much of that is truth or coachspeak remains to be seen. Chances are that Hoke is trying to light a fire under Devin Gardner to motivate him for this upcoming battle. Gardner hasn’t had to fight for the starting job -- he came in behind Denard Robinson, and the job became his pretty much by default last season as Bellomy was on crutches after an ACL injury, while Morris didn't enroll until the summer. Chances are that the job will also be Gardner's in the fall, but the staff wants to see him fight for it. Keep in mind that in the past two seasons, the starting quarterback for Michigan in the first game has not started the last game.

Why should you watch if this might not end up as a true battle for the starting job? Because it will involve a dogfight to be second on the depth chart and will give fans a better idea about their quarterback of the future. Morris has the advantage here because he performed well in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. However, he wasn’t asked to make too many difficult throws. He has showed poise under pressure, which Bellomy didn’t do his last time out for the Wolverines. But don’t discount Speight in this battle. He was confident enough to give up the last five months of his senior year in high school to enroll early and get on campus. I doubt most guys would really give up that time if they didn’t think they had a shot at cracking the two-deep. Speight does have a three-inch height advantage over Morris, which is always helpful when spying defenses and looking for receivers.

Overall, this should be an interesting position battle to watch. Gardner -- when he was playing his best -- was one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten. If that version of Gardner consistently shows up at summer workouts and this fall, it likely won’t be too much of a competition. The Ohio State game showed that Gardner can lead an offense and has enough mental toughness to overcome adversity, as he played more than half of the game on a throbbing, broken foot. This spring should give fans a peek into the future. If the good version of Gardner doesn’t show up in the fall, that future could arrive earlier than expected.
We’re taking a look at different players, position groups and parts of the team to keep an eye on as the Wolverines begin spring practice on Feb. 25. Today, the countdown ends with No. 1. But fear not, we’ll continue the countdowns next week when we examine position battles.

No. 1: QB Shane Morris
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 201 pounds
2013 statistics: played in five games (one start), 29-of-47 passing, two interceptions, 261 yards, zero touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeShane Morris
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesMichigan QB Shane Morris hopes to make the best of his opportunities this spring.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said earlier this month that the starting quarterback for next season is an “unknown." Obviously, there are plenty of reasons for that to be true. The team went a mediocre 7-6, and Devin Gardner’s performances hit highs and sunk to low lows. And Morris played well during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State.

The quarterback question could also be a bit of coach speak, as Michigan likes to say that every position is always up for grabs.

However, with Gardner sitting out for at least some of the spring season while healing and rehabbing his foot, the door is open enough for Morris to make some statements and gain some ground. He’ll be working with the first-string offense, which will help him to gain chemistry with new receivers, and he'll be behind an offensive line that should show some growth.

If he’s able to really dig into Doug Nussmeier’s playbook, find his receivers and get better touch on his passes, he could really make this a competition for fall camp. But that would be highly dependent on how this spring goes. If he struggles, he puts himself further back and opens the door for Russell Bellomy or Wilton Speight to battle Gardner for the starting spot or fight for that backup position.

This spring is going to be crucial to the development of Morris as a quarterback. Down the road, the coaches will look at Morris as a possible face for the program. He handled the attention and spotlight well during bowl practice, but this will be another test. And any time a QB can run reps with the first-string players, it should be an opportunity to improve his skills. Morris has to remember that this spring.

The countdown:
Following Michigan's 63-point output against Indiana a week and a half ago, quarterback Devin Gardner and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon took questions from the media, laughing and smiling about the show they’d just put on.

Gardner had thrown for 503 yards. Gallon had accounted for 369 of those receiving yards, a new Big Ten record.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarDevin Gardner worked long hours in Glick Field House by himself so when the time came he'd be ready.
When the two exited the room Gardner looked at Gallon.

“You dropped one,” Gardner said, referring to Gallon’s single miscue. "You could've had an NCAA record."

“Bad pass,” Gallon said with a laugh.

He knew it was a lie. Passes from Gardner to Gallon are rarely bad. In fact, Gardner claims he can throw to Gallon with his eyes closed if need be.

Gallon likes to think there isn’t a pass coming his way from Gardner he couldn’t catch. And after the work the two have put in over the past four years, it’s the least he will accept.

“You work together long enough, you know what the other guy’s going to do,” offensive coordinator Al Borges said. “Just building a trust where both of them understand he’s going to be here at this time, and I know when I release the ball I can count on that to happen -- that takes time. That doesn’t happen overnight with anybody.”

And it didn’t happen overnight for these two.

When Gardner came to Ann Arbor in early 2010, he was the backup to Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier. The Wolverines’ morale was at a low, having come off a second consecutive bowl-less season.

Gardner had enrolled early to get a head start and compete, but when he arrived, Glick Field House was empty most days, and he found himself competing against only himself.

So he would set up tractor tires, propping them up against one another for target practice. Then he’d put bags near his feet to make sure his footwork was progressing. Then he’d add nets in front of the tires to work on dropping balls in to the receivers (read: tires), perfecting his trajectory.

Saturday after Saturday that winter, when Gardner should’ve been a senior at Inkster High School, he was working on his game by throwing to tires. Occasionally he’d see Gallon, then a freshman who had redshirted the previous season, in the halls or weight room of Schembechler Hall, but Gardner never asked Gallon to be his target and Gallon never asked Gardner to be his gunslinger.

“I really didn’t have anybody to throw to,” Gardner said. “Nobody wants to go and throw with the backup.”

The next season -- what would be Rich Rodriguez’s last at Michigan -- Gallon and Gardner started becoming close, both on and off the field.

Gardner was a true freshman in 2010, behind Robinson and Forcier, while Gallon was behind Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms.

But in practice, Gardner and Gallon connected. The backup defense had no answers for the two. They’d work extra when they had time and even though Gallon was 5-foot-8, he seemed to be one of the more reliable targets Gardner had found.

“He’s a much better target than a tire,” Gardner said with a smile. “He’s much easier to throw to than a tire, but the tire kind of set me up to be able to throw to anybody.”

“We just used to stay after and work with each other,” Gallon added. “When we weren’t playing, we’d work with each other to do everything we could to get out on the field.”

But they did get on the field that season.

Gardner made reserve appearances against Connecticut and Notre Dame. Then, in a close win over Massachusetts, Gallon was put in at slot receiver, while Robinson took every QB snap, leaving Gardner on the side.

But against Bowling Green, the two started their foundation. Gardner threw his first touchdown pass, which was Gallon’s first touchdown catch -- an 11-yard bubble screen.

“We didn’t plan it that way,” Gardner said. “It just happened.”

That’d be the last game Gardner would play in 2010 as he sat out the rest of the season with a back injury.

Michigan went to the Gator Bowl that year -- the only bowl appearance under Rodriguez. When the Wolverines returned to Ann Arbor, embarrassed after a 52-14 loss to Mississippi State, there were even fewer players at Glick than the year before.

But Gallon and Gardner were there. Even when the coaches weren’t, even when the coaching staffs changed, even when the questions surrounding Michigan were louder than anything happening inside the building, Gardner and Gallon were there.

From the gray days of February to the hot mornings in the Michigan summer, the two could be found in Glick Field House.

“The Saturdays were long, hot days in Glick -- just us two or a couple guys working on what we needed to work on until one of us called quits,” Gallon said. “But we’d start talking, one of us would take a knee and we’d be sitting there talking for hours. Then we’d call it after that.”

The next season, both saw more playing time and their chemistry grew. Gardner appeared in nine games, finishing the season 11-of-26 with one touchdown and one interception. Gallon played in all 13 games, finishing with 453 yards and three touchdowns.

It was an impressive year for Gallon, but Gardner knew he had more in him.

[+] EnlargeGallon
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Gallon has developed a strong bond with Devin Gardner on and off the field.
But they wouldn’t be able to show that for some time as the Michigan coaching staff decided to move Gardner to wide receiver in 2012. Through the first eight games, Gardner hadn’t taken a single game snap at QB.

Gallon still led the Wolverine receivers with 318 yards on 18 catches, for an average of 40 yards per game.

But then Robinson got hurt. And so did Russell Bellomy.

And against Minnesota, Gardner returned and wasn’t fazed because he knew he had Gallon.

“I had a safety blanket that I knew for sure was going to be where he was going to be, and I could throw it to him at any time,” Gardner said. “He made it so much easier for me because it was ‘If all else fails, Gallon is going to be open.’ … I feel like I wouldn’t be at the point I’m at now without Gallon because I had that failsafe that I trusted absolutely no matter what.”

Through the final five games last season, Gallon caught 31 balls for 511 yards -- an average of 102 yards per game (increasing 62 yards per game from Robinson/Bellomy to Gardner).

This season, their successes on the field have been well documented. Gardner has promised Gallon that he’ll get him a 1,000-yard season for his final campaign and by the looks of it, Gardner is making good on his word. Gallon has promised to make Gardner look as good on the field as he is in Glick.

But without Glick, these two wouldn’t be where they are.

On the field, they’ve come to almost share a brain. And off the field, they’ve become brothers, though Gallon already has five and Gardner has two. But this will be their last season together, a fitting end to their start on long Saturdays by themselves.

But they’ve secured themselves in Michigan lore to an extent, and they appreciate that their names and numbers will always be tied to one another because they always knew that the success of one relied upon the success of the other. And the Wolverines have relied upon both.

Because for Michigan this season, Gardner wouldn’t be Gardner without Gallon. And Gallon wouldn’t be Gallon without Gardner.

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.

[+] EnlargeShane Morris
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.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan had several areas of need in the 2014 class, chief among them being quarterback and linebacker, largely due to injuries both position groups have suffered. Here’s a look at the top five areas of need and what Michigan has done to address them so far.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Fresh ideas: Quarterback 

May, 30, 2013
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Can a true freshman really contribute at the college level? Is it easier at one position than another? Over the next two months WolverineNation will be breaking down the probabilities of playing time and projections of the Wolverines’ freshmen, position-by-position.

What it takes for a true freshman QB to play: Even if a true freshman quarterback enrolls early and is physically and mentally ready for the speed of the game at the college level, several other chips need to fall into place in order to get that player on the field. First, the freshman needs to beat out the players in front of him, or the players in front of him need to struggle/get injured. Second, the coach has to have a heck of a lot of trust in that player. Stepping on the field in front of 110,000 screaming fans requires a large amount of confidence, not only from the quarterback himself, but also his coach.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

WolverineNation recruiting roundtable 

May, 13, 2013
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Every other week our writers invite in an outside reporter to weigh in on Michigan recruiting topics. Today, Adam Rittenberg from the Big Ten blog stops by to chat.

1. Generally speaking, at which position at the college level is it “easiest” to contribute as a true freshman?

Adam Rittenberg: Running back and wide receiver are the two that jump out. Some freshman running backs aren't physically ready to be significant contributors, but running back and receiver are spots where freshmen can use their natural skills to get on the field. There's learning to do at both spots, but not like what you see at quarterback, linebacker or safety. Unless you're named Jadeveon Clowney, linemen usually need at least one full offseason in the program to have a chance to be a significant contributor.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Michigan spring wrap

May, 3, 2013
2012 record: 8-5

2012 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 3

Top returners:

QB Devin Gardner, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DT Quinton Washington, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, CB Raymon Taylor, S Thomas Gordon

Key losses

QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, OG Patrick Omameh, C Elliott Mealer, DE Craig Roh, DT William Campbell, LB Kenny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, S Jordan Kovacs

2012 statistical leaders

Rushing: Denard Robinson (1,266 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson (1,319 yards)

Receiving: Jeremy Gallon* (829 yards)

Tackles: Jake Ryan* (88)

Sacks: Jake Ryan* (4.0)

Interceptions: Thomas Gordon* and Raymon Taylor* (2)

Spring answers

1. Defensive line fine: Michigan had to replace a four-year starter in Craig Roh as well as defensive tackle Will Campbell up front. It doesn’t seem like it will be an issue. Michigan has a potential star in Frank Clark at rush end as well as depth at the position with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. Keith Heitzman, for now, seems to have locked up a spot at strong side end, but there is a lot of talent there, too. The Wolverines have depth at all four spots and while competitions will continue into the fall, Michigan should be able to rotate at defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s leisure.

2. Devin Gardner’s progression: After the way he played toward the end of last season, there was not much doubt about Gardner as the starter, but Michigan’s coaches appear happy with his growth throughout the offseason. He has developed as a quarterback the way the coaching staff has liked, and this is even more critical because he is the only healthy scholarship quarterback until Shane Morris arrives next month. Gardner's teammates believe in him and he is setting up for a big year.

3. Tight end weapons: Michigan still doesn’t have great depth at tight end, but what the Wolverines do have is a young group of guys who will become big targets for Gardner as the position evolves into a more featured role. Devin Funchess could have a breakout sophomore season and Jake Butt has a similar skill set. A.J. Williams slimmed down as well, perhaps turning him into more than just an extra blocker.

Fall questions

1. Who runs the ball: Michigan was never going to be able to answer this question in the spring with Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off a broken leg and freshmen Derrick Green and Deveon Smith still not on campus. But none of the running backs who participated in spring made a lasting impression on the coaches, meaning if he is healthy, Toussaint will likely receive the first chance at winning the job in the fall.

2. Can Jake Ryan be replaced: Michigan seems confident with its grouping of Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker, but part of what made Ryan Michigan’s best defender was his ability to instinctively be around the ball. Whether or not Beyer or Gordon can do that in games remains to be seen. If the combination of those two can approximate that, Michigan’s defense should be fine.

3. Can the interior of the line hold up: Michigan is replacing both of its guards and its center. While the combination of redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center and redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis at guard has a ton of talent, none have taken a meaningful snap in a game before. How they mesh with returning tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, along with how they connect with each other on combination blocks on the inside, could determine not only Michigan’s running success this fall, but also how many games the Wolverines win in Brady Hoke’s third season.

WolverineNation roundtable 

May, 2, 2013
Every Thursday our writers sit down to chat about Michigan sports and the issues surrounding them. Today, they look at redshirts, hypothetical 3-on-3 basketball tournaments and early offers.

1) Of the 2013 class, which player do you think would benefit the most from a redshirt?

Shane Morris
Tom VanHaaren/ESPN.comFreshman QB Shane Morris won't be afforded the luxury of a redshirt that would be of huge benefit.
Michael Rothstein: Shane Morris. While offensive linemen usually redshirt to gain size and strength, Morris would be a huge benefactor of an extra year. He won't be Michigan's starter and barely played as a senior due to mononucleosis. Having a year to understand Al Borges' system would be extremely beneficial to his college career. However, he might not have that luxury due to the injury to Russell Bellomy which leaves him as the second healthy quarterback on the roster this fall.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

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.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider


Michigan C Cites Concussions In Decision To Quit
Joe Schad discusses how concussions and a concern over long-term health have helped Michigan center Jack Miller decide not to play football his senior year.