Michigan's Quarterback Controversy: Gardner vs Morris
By Brad Vonck
The returning Wolverines veterans that turned in a disappointing 7-6 season surely expect no guarantees entering spring camp. The offseason hiring of touted offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier only adds fuel to the speculation that many changes are in store.
Recently, one change has become public: starting positions will be open for competition.
Coach Brady Hoke announced the most high-profile — an open competition for starting quarterback between current junior Devin Gardner and current freshman Shane Morris. Such a competition may shock the portion of the Wolverines fanbase partial to Gardner, while others may welcome it with open arms.
We will determine which of these two quarterbacks should be starting for the Wolverines when they play in August against Appalachian State.
The Case For Devin Gardner
As the Wolverines starting quarterback, Gardner has developed a mixed bag of supporters and detractors. It would be easy to say that he showed flashes of brilliance in 2013, but isn’t that just a nice way of saying he was inconsistent?
Gardner did chalk up multiple outstanding outings last fall, including four touchdowns and 294 passing yards in a victory over Notre Dame. Although a heartbreaking loss, his last game against Ohio State also was a fantastic performance by the soon-to-be senior, as he completed 32 of 45 attempts through the air for 451 yards and four touchdowns.
However, these strong outings were marred by multiple disasters. During the losses against Michigan State and Penn State, respectively, the Wolverine offense was held to six points and Gardner accounted for three turnovers in the first half alone.
He finished the year with 2,960 yards passing, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. This left Wolverines fans wondering whether his best days were behind him or they only had seen the beginning of his capabilities.
Hiring Nussmeier seems to confirm Michigan's strong desire to, at the very least, include a more pro-style feel to their offensive scheme. G
ardner’s previous successes and failures are well documented. But none of that matters during an open competition with a new coordinator who's wiped the evaluation slate clean.
This bodes well for Gardner if he continues to develop his ability to be successful inside the pocket. By choosing Gardner, Nussmeier can be confident in the playmaking ability he has in his quarterback for the first game of the season. Warts and all, there is no rebuilding to be done with Gardner starting for the Wolverines.
The Case For Shane Morris
Many believe Michigan’s hiring of Nussmeier is the preverbal writing on the wall for Gardner. With Nussmeier’s history of pro-style quarterbacks preceding him, it seems Shane Morris should be exicted.
Michigan fans already should be intrigued by Morris, who was heavily recruited as an incoming freshman and ranked as the No. 4 quarterback in the 2013 class according to Rivals.com.
Morris was given the chance to take many of the reps last December and start the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Kansas State on Dec. 28 due to Gardner being out with a foot injury. In his first career start, Morris showed promise as he completed 24 of 38 attempts and gained 196 yards in an otherwise-disappointing 31-14 defeat.
Hoke praised Morris’ performance against Kansas State in his recent announcement of the competition. “I thought [Morris] did a really good job of being composed," said Hoke. "He did a great job with his preparation and I thought he represented himself well in that game."
With a rising stock in Ann Arbor, and a new era beginning with Nussmeier on offense, the stars could be aligning for Morris. If he were named the starter, Nussmeier would have the opportunity to mold a relatively green Morris for three years.
However, quarterback is not the largest question mark currently in the Wolverines offense, as that distinction belongs to a struggling offensive line. Would Nussmeier really want to subject a developing pocket passer to an offensive line that ranked 105th in the FBS in 2013 in sacks allowed?
The Winner: Devin Gardner
As much as Morris may be the future for the Wolverines, he will have to wait until the 2015 for his chance to start behind center.
Gardner provides the Wolverines with a better opportunity to win in 2014, with an offense that already has many other areas in desperate need of improvement. Rushing for 483 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013, Gardner has the legs to avoid pressure and turn broken plays into positive gains. His level of experience and athleticism give the Wolverines more slack to develop than Morris’ youth and skill set would allow.
Hoke must keep in check any desire Nussmeier has to start fresh, because it is possible that Gardner's best year as a Wolverine is yet to come.
Beyond that, benching a talented player like Gardner during his senior year for a sophomore would be a severe mishandling of resources by Hoke and Nussmeier. If Morris sits for 2014, he will still have two years to make his mark.
If Morris were to get the starting job in 2014 and things went south, the Wolverines would have a disaster on their hands. Not only would Hoke always wonder what Gardner would have done in his second full year as a starter, he may also find himself again in the midst of quarterback uncertainty. By seeing through his investment in Gardner, Hoke can give the Wolverines a battle-tested dual threat at quarterback for 2014, while steadily grooming a successor in Morris.
Sure, Gardner needs to improve areas of his game, and what better motivation could you have than an eager Morris nipping at your heels? With a fresh slate in Nussmeier, Gardner should impress coaches and fans with new level of play this offseason and into the fall.
Regardless of which camp to which you belong, there's no doubt that this open competition will have a positive impact for the Wolverines.