Michigan Wolverines: Spring football 2013

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The first real look at Michigan's kind of new return to its pro style run-the-ball roots on offense went about as expected Saturday during its controlled scrimmage.

Michigan didn’t give much away. It rotated fairly liberally. And any potential wrinkles or research put together by offensive coordinator Al Borges will remain a public secret until the fall.

The Wolverines’ scrimmage, which was going to be deemed controlled at the start, had more of a feel of a situational practice. No official, public statistics were taken. There was no score kept.

Almost everything Michigan ran was pretty rudimentary when it comes to its offensive plan.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Ben Braden has had to learn a lot over the past 18 months. He had to adjust to college. Needed to learn how to play college football.

And now, theoretically, the redshirt freshman has to learn a new position. Braden, who was recruited as an offensive tackle and is the potential heir apparent to Taylor Lewan, is now lining up at guard.

Making the move inside will be a transition, but it might end up helping Braden in more ways than he realizes. Moving to guard, be it for a year or even just the spring if he is beaten out for the job, gives him more versatility for his Michigan career. And for a potential career in the NFL later on.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The official start to the Devin Gardner era at Michigan began with a long pass down the field to Amara Darboh.

As with much of the final month of last season for Gardner, the result was unsurprising. The pass was complete.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIThe transition to a pro-style passing game with Devin Gardner at quarterback is now underway.
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.”
Over the next week, WolverineNation will give a brief look at five players to keep an eye on during spring practice for varying reasons.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s biggest question entering the spring resides on the offensive line, where the Wolverines are replacing both guards and the center. This is important for many reasons, including they are the main conduits for blocking for quarterback Devin Gardner and whomever emerges out of the running back competition.

As Michigan saw last season, when the offensive line isn’t strong and cohesive, an offense can stall.

The most intriguing of all the offensive line prospects is redshirt freshman Ben Braden. The Rockford, Mich., native doesn’t have as much experience as some of his classmates, let alone some of the upperclassmen he’ll be competing with. But his raw potential, build and willingness to move inside if it means playing time makes him the WolverineNation No. 1 player to watch this spring.

Over the next week, WolverineNation will give a brief look at five players to keep an eye on during spring practice for varying reasons.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- He waited for two-plus seasons for a chance to start at quarterback, to have a team all his own. Devin Gardner received that chance midway through last season, when incumbent Denard Robinson aggravated the ulnar nerve in his throwing arm.


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Over the next week, WolverineNation will give a brief look at five players to keep an eye on during spring practice for varying reasons.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- For the time being, Michigan has a wide receiver problem, more so than a season ago when the question of who would replace Junior Hemingway was a big one in Michigan’s offense.

Now, the Wolverines are even more inexperienced than a year ago. Roy Roundtree’s graduation leaves a massive hole opposite likely No. 1-receiver Jeremy Gallon and with no obvious complement as a tall receiver to the more diminutive Gallon, it is a wide open spot.


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Over the next week, WolverineNation will give a brief look at five players to keep an eye on during spring practice for varying reasons.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- While Taco Charlton is just one of the six early enrolling freshmen this spring, but the defensive end is more intriguing than most for the simple reason that he’ll potentially have a chance to play.


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