Should Devin Gardner play wide receiver or be the backup quarterback?Okay, this wasn't really a mailbag question. It was asked by Lankownia in the comments section. Also, it's the hip topic of spring practice (so far). Here are my thoughts.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, play him at wide receiver. Michigan is hurting - badly - at the wide receiver position. Besides the 2008 squad (Greg Mathews, Laterryal Savoy, Darryl Stonum, Martavious Odoms, Toney Clemons, etc.), I think this is Michigan's worst receiver unit in years and years and years. Each of the returning receivers has at least one major flaw:
- Jeremy Jackson: slow
- Jeremy Gallon: short
- Drew Dileo: short
- Jerald Robinson: maturity issues
- Roy Roundtree: chemistry issues
Darryl Stonum: drunk
Roundtree has the best chance of being the number one guy because he's been Michigan's leading receiver before, but he wasn't often targeted last season, he's had some issues with his hands over the past 1.5 seasons, and there was a fair bit of confusion between him and Denard last season when Roundtree went one way and the ball went sailing elsewhere. Beyond that, all of these guys are role type players who have limited ceilings in this offense. Gallon has some big play ability, but it seemed that Al Borges's only way of getting him the ball last season was to run a throwback screen (and to Jedi Mind Trick the Notre Dame Fighting Irish into completely forgetting he was on the football field). Robinson is a jump ball guy who has receiving ability similar to Junior Hemingway's, without so much talent when it comes to running after the catch.
So aside from Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint, this isn't a scary offense.
Now throw a 6'4", 205 lb. guy with long arms and good leaping ability into the mix. Instantly, he's the tallest receiver on the roster. He's probably the second fastest receiver on the roster. He can jump. He can catch. He's bright. Can he block? I don't know. Other than that, all the tools seem to be there.
The catch is that if Gardner plays receiver, who's being groomed to be the quarterback in 2013? And who enters the game for Denard when he inevitably dings up a shoulder or a hip or a knee? While Gardner's playing wideout, he's not taking snaps. Meanwhile, third-string quarterback Russell Bellomy is getting some looks and then you have to look at 2013 freshman Shane Morris, a highly touted but [obviously] young QB. Depth will once again be thin in 2013, even if Gardner plays quarterback. Those are problems to worry about in the future, though. Right now, assuming the electric Robinson can stay healthy, you need to get the best eleven on the field. Gardner is one of the best eleven athletes on the offensive unit. It doesn't do anyone much good to leave a kid like that wasting his time on the bench for three years.
I do have confidence in the futures of both incoming freshmen, Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh. But you can't count on them to be ready immediately. You have to plan to play the guys who are already on the squad, and I don't think you can convincingly guarantee me that every guy in the above bulleted list is a better receiving prospect than Devin Gardner.
On a side note, this discussion is why you recruit at least one quarterback every year. I insisted for the entirety of the 2012 recruiting cycle that Michigan should - and would - get a quarterback to sign with them in February. It had happened for 14 years in a row and wouldn't stop. Well, I was wrong. The Wolverines got a commitment from Morris for 2013 and ignored the position for 2012. Now they're flirting with the idea of putting the #2 quarterback at receiver and being stuck with Bellomy as the sole backup devoted to the quarterback position. If the doomsday scenario occurs in which both Robinson and Gardner get hurt, the Wolverines will be left with Bellomy and ___________ at quarterback. That scenario is unlikely to actually occur, but if Michigan had an incoming freshman quarterback, the Gardner-to-receiver thing would be a no-brainer. Instead, it has fans - and the coaches, it seems - unsure of how to use Gardner.