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SportsMonday Column: Recruit Gardner isn't the short-term answer at quarterback

BY ANDY REID
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 24, 2010

So, Devin Gardner is officially on campus — but be careful what you wish for, Wolverine fans. He’s not the answer for next season.

Sure, he’s talented, and his running abilities are a step up compared to Tate Forcier in Rich Rodriguez’s spread-option attack. Sure, in a few years, with his natural athletic ability, Gardner has the potential to leave his mark on Michigan football history.

But he needs to sit next year.

If Gardner doesn’t redshirt — which would make him the first quarterback in the Rodriguez era with enough time to fully learn the complicated offensive scheme before being thrust onto the field — it’s going to negatively affect the quality of the position in the long run.

And, if you think about it, the best possible scenario for the Wolverines would be if they were in a position to sit Gardner, anyway.

That would mean that Forcier continues to progress through the spring and summer, becoming more comfortable in the pocket and reading defenses. It would mean that he gets bigger, stronger and faster in another year of strength and conditioning under coordinator Mike Barwis’s rigid system.

And it would mean Michigan has some consistency at the quarterback position — not another overwhelmed first-year starter. That’s something maize-and-blue fans completely took for granted during Chad Henne’s illustrious career. Or even John Navarre’s for that matter, though some might not look on him fondly.

Next season, then, Denard Robinson should stay at quarterback — for at least one more year. He’s not the best option, but, barring an injury to Forcier in which case you could burn Gardner’s redshirt if it became necessary. He’s a solid backup quarterback with a great change-of-pace running style.

That way, Gardner has two seasons (2011 and ’12) to back up Forcier and play a Denard-like, two-drive-a-game role (and, who knows, possibly wrestle the starting job away from him) and learn the offense the right way.

Wolverine nation, I understand that you’re upset and want to win right now. But Gardner isn’t the answer — this season.

How is another freshman quarterback going to solve anything? He’s talented, but the “freshman moments” that plagued Forcier last season aren’t going to just magically disappear. Henne was an exception, not the norm, and a freshman Gardner — no matter how many Vince Young comparisons are thrown around by over-excited national recruiting analysts — would have plenty of cringe-worthy mistakes if he’s forced to start next season.

Give him time to learn the offense.

I think Rodriguez knows that this would be the right decision. But I’m worried that, under the extreme pressure to perform in his third season the helm, the coach will be forced to make bold and rash choices, including pulling the gun on his ace recruit, which would hinder not only Gardner’s development but also the team’s future.

And it’s not like the alternative is a bad move.

I have full confidence that Forcier is going to be a good quarterback at Michigan. He’s got the skills, poise and moxie to lead this offense, given he has a talented surrounding cast, which the Wolverines should have next season.

I know it’s tough, but hang in there. Playing Gardner prematurely would prove to be a very bad move.

— Reid can be reached at andyreid@umich.edu.