Denard Robinson casts a long shadow.

Standing in it is a 6-foot-4 protégé with a strong arm and long strides, waiting his turn, technically with a longer shadow.

Both are mobile quarterbacks, with speed to burn — there’s no question Robinson has more of it.

But Devin Gardner has one thing on Michigan’s starting quarterback: size.

“He’s a little more of a prototype, in that he’s tall and can see the field,” Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said.

This spring, while all eyes are fixated on Robinson and his transition to the pro-style offense, Gardner is making the same change, and just as smoothly.

“Devin is formidable,” Borges said. “Devin is doing a nice job. Devin’s a good quarterback. Devin’s done some really good things. He has some of the same traits, as far as pull the ball down and run.

“Denard does some things that are dynamic that I can’t coach — that nobody can coach. Devin does some of those too. They play the position similar in some ways and different in others in that I think Devin can work inside the pocket because of his profile, very naturally.”

Borges added that Robinson can work in the pocket, but his profile doesn’t fit the mold of throwing over and around a tall offensive line as Gardner’s does.

Michigan fans tasted, if for only 10 pass attempts, what the future holds in week four against Bowling Green last season. Gardner completed 7-of-10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown, and he also ran for another score.

It was just a year ago, during the 2010 Spring Game, when Gardner received a warm reception in the Big House as the Michigan fans recognized the arrival of the five-star recruit.

This spring, he has been putting in the work to improve. With Tate Forcier’s transfer, Gardner is the Wolverines’ only reliable backup to the injury-prone Robinson.

“(Gardner’s) an ambitious kid,” Borges said. “He spends a lot of time watching film and trying to get up to speed on what we’re doing. He has improved at a steady rate. He’s an accurate passer … I’ve been very happy with Devin’s progress. I think he’s going to be a good one before it’s all said and done.”

Borges also had kind words to say about Robinson’s development. But with Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s mantra of competition at every position, one question naturally comes to mind: Is the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year’s spot safe?


“Devin is doing his darndest to see to it that he pushes that issue and he’s done a good job with it,” Borges said. “But at this point, Denard’s our quarterback. I’ve got no reason to believe he’s not going to be our quarterback. Everything is pending, you never know. But they both have done a good job. And they’re competing and I love it — I love it.”

One possibility, which Rich Rodriguez employed at times with Robinson and Forcier in 2010, is a rotation between Robinson and Gardner. Last year, Rodriguez and the other offensive coaches said they had plays they liked to run more with Forcier than Robinson. And the boiling point came during an ugly win at Purdue, when Robinson was pulled — due to poor play, not injury — and Forcier didn’t generate much either.

At the time, Robinson insisted that sitting on the sidelines didn’t negatively affect his game.

But Borges isn’t exactly a fan of the two-quarterback gimmick.

“With the game in the balance — not much,” Borges said. “I’ve never been a believer in that. That doesn’t mean we won’t do it. But I’ve never been a believer in, ‘Well, let’s play him a series in the first half, see how he does, get him a little experience.’ And then you put him in there and he throws an interception, you lose 10-7.

“But I don’t know, I’m not saying we won’t do that. Brady and I got to talk about that after the spring.”

Borges did note that when he was coaching at Auburn, Georgia rotated the pocket-passing David Greene with the uber-athletic D.J. Shockley and found success. Shockley threw about four passes per game during Greene’s senior season in 2004 — Greene graduated as Division I’s all-time winningest quarterback.

And the next year during his senior season, Shockley was named an All-SEC quarterback with more than 2,500 passing yards and 24 touchdowns.

“(Shockley’s) next year, he had that, playing in every game, and because of it, it really helped it,” Borges said. “So I would never say never. But it’s never been my approach as a coordinator.”

Gardner may have four more years of eligibility remaining, if he is indeed granted a medical redshirt for his freshman season — the status of which he won’t know until after his fourth year.

Conventional wisdom would believe that Gardner will be handed the keys to the offense when Robinson graduates or jumps to the NFL after the 2011 season, giving him two to three years to creep out from Robinson’s shadow.

But will he see the field this fall? That is a discussion yet to be had.

“We’re not going to make that decision until we see all of the cards on table, get through spring, see where we are with the whole thing,” Borges said. “But I would not commit one way or another.”

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