By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) – Despite a spring game that looked rather rocky, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner had his smile back after the conclusion of the team’s 15th and final spring practice.
Following Michigan’s loss at the end of the 2013 season to rival Ohio State in a 42-41 thriller, Gardner sat at the podium looking dejected and aggravated, his trademark grin replaced with a scowl. Saturday proved a complete contrast, despite a performance that showed plenty of room for improvement.
Gardner started the game – in which there was no clock running, no score kept and no statistics distributed – with an interception intended for new arrival Freddy Canteen, but that did not appear to faze the quarterback.
“It was a miscommunication,” Gardner said. “I thought it would be he would flatten out, and he thought he would go over the top. It’s just something we’ve got to work through. He’s an early guy, and he’s played well, so I wasn’t mad at him because I knew he was going to come back and make a play, which he did. He told me he would.”
Gardner also took at least one sack – though Frank Clark had to stop short of actually tackling him – and struggled to throw accurately when the offensive line had trouble keeping its defensive counterparts at bay. Again, Gardner did not seem to put too much stock in what transpired, expressing that he felt good about the offense’s performance.
“I felt like we competed well against the defense,” Gardner said. “They made some plays, they got through a little bit, and then other times we protected really well. When you play with each other for 15 straight days, you know little tendencies of each other, and it’s hard to just continue to stop guys from getting in.”
The quarterback also pointed out that in addition to the offense running generic plays, head coach Brady Hoke managed the scrimmage in such a way that the offense did not necessarily get the chance to finish all its possessions.
“We were really vanilla, but some of our drives were stopped by Coach Hoke wanting to get the scrimmage atmosphere – we didn’t go in the red zone,” Gardner said. “The ones and twos got in the red zone a few times, but [we] brought it back … kind of took some touchdowns away from us.
“I was very upset,” Gardner said, laughing. “I was looking at Coach Nuss [offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier] like, ‘What are we doing? We’re going backwards!’ But that’s the way Coach Hoke wanted to do today. It was fun.”
Hoke said after the scrimmage that the team has a long way to go but that the adjustment of players to the new offense of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has been a challenge.
“It’s been a lot for the kids,” Hoke said. “We’ve put them in a lot of uncomfortable situations through spring, asked them to learn a lot and see what stuck a little bit. Today we didn’t do a whole lot either side of the ball, to be honest with you.”
The offensive line looked spotty throughout the scrimmage, and Hoke termed its performance “inconsistent.” Asked about an earlier comment in which he said the best five lineman would be the ones starting, Hoke said the coaches had not determined who those five were yet. For now, he said, the that group is not even close to being set.
While the competition continues in that area, the competition for the starting quarterback spot appears to be all but over. Gardner gave a rundown, however, of what the quarterbacks behind him on the depth chart do well.
“Russell [Bellomy], he’s a smart guy,” Gardner said. “He pretty much knows where everybody’s going to be. Wilton [Speight] has a really strong arm, he’s a bigger guy, so when he takes his drops, when everybody else is at seven, he’s at eight, so it gives him a little bit better vision. He has a strong arm, he’s really accurate, and Shane [Morris] has probably the strongest arm I’ve seen since I’ve been here and maybe – I’ve been around a lot of quarterbacks and seen a lot of other guys throw, but he’s probably got the strongest arm I’ve seen.
“Oh my goodness – it was amazing how much better they made me, so I found myself trying to be super-perfect in everything,” Gardner added. “Obviously you can’t be perfect, but you can play as best you can. When it’s guys coming from behind and wanting to compete and wanting to play, it puts a sense of urgency on you.”
Gardner missed the team’s 2013 bowl game against Kansas State with an injury, but before that he threw for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns. He completed 60.3 percent of his passes and threw 11 interceptions.