It's now or never for fifth-year senior Devin Gardner
APR 05, 2014 6:03p ET
It might be the best blocking Gardner gets all season.
From all indications, Gardner has maintained his hold on the Wolverines' starting job following 15 spring practices that ended Saturday before an estimated crowd of 15,000 at Michigan Stadium.
Gardner entered the spring with questions surrounding him. Would he be healthy enough to compete after a foot injury hampered him late in the season and forced him to miss the bowl game?
What's more, can he hold off the competition from Shane Morris, who started the bowl in his place as a true freshman, not to mention 6-foot-6 newcomer Wilton Speight?
Gardner needed to make a statement over the last month to secure his role.
"I think I did a pretty good job of that," Gardner said.
Gardner threw an interception on his first pass of Saturday's controlled scrimmage and had definite accuracy issues on a windy, 45-degree day, the first time the Wolverines had practiced outdoors all spring.
He later came back to connect on a 40-plus yard pass to speedster Freddy Canteen, another of the team's early enrollees.
"I think Devin had, really, a pretty good spring," coach Brady Hoke said. "He became more consistent on a daily basis, I guess, is the best way to put it.
"Obviously, today, you don't like starting the scrimmage from your black zone (deep in own territory) throwing a pick, but overall I think he showed improvement. I think he showed command. That includes a maturity about him."
It also includes a sense of urgency.
Gardner is going to be a fifth-year senior. Starting August 30 against Appalachian State, it will become "now or never" time for him.
"He's always been kind of a football junkie, but I think he's worked at it more so this spring," Hoke said.
Gardner added: "It's your last opportunity to make something happen, leave your stamp, part of your legacy here."
The problem for Gardner is going to be whether he can stay healthy with what is almost certainly going to be a suspect offensive line again.
The Wolverines were shockingly vulnerable up front last season when they finished 7-6 while losing five of their final six games.
The performance Saturday by the O-line gave no indication that anything has changed.
It's a good thing they've gotten Morris and Speight some reps this spring. Both back-ups eventually might be needed if Gardner doesn't get any protection.
New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier plans to reduce Gardner's running attempts to try to keep him from having to take those extra hits.
"Absolutely, that's the plan," Gardner said. "That's what coach Nuss is always talking about even when we have (quarterback) read plays where I'll read the (defensive) end. It used to be if it's a question, we'll take it and go (on a keeper). Now if it's a question, we want the running back to hold the ball and to continue to run.
"The threat (of Gardner running) is always going to be there. I feel like that's going to keep defenses honest. I'm pretty sure they have me on film running before.
"I feel comfortable with it (the new approach). It keeps me a little healthy toward the end of the season."
Gardner, like the rest of the offensive players, has had to make the adjustment to the change in coordinators.
Nussmeier, who was the offensive coordinator at Alabama, took over after the Wolverines fired Al Borges following the late-season collapse.
"He's insane," Gardner said of Nussmeier. "He demands perfection. That's his personality.
"You could think you had a great play and then he'll find something to critique, which is great for us. That makes us want to be even more perfect."
Gardner and the offensive line don't have to be perfect, that's for sure. But they certainly have to be a lot better than they were last season.
Hoke, whose season win total has dropped from 11 to eight to seven, will be entering his fourth season as the Wolverines' coach.
He can't afford another mediocre year without his job security being in danger.
--- Michigan unveiled a statue Friday night of the late legendary coach Bo Schembechler outside the newly renovated Schembechler Hall, the team's football facility.
Detroit News reporter Angelique Chengelis posted a photo on Twitter:
"If you're not impressed with that statue, you're not a human being or you know nothing about Michigan and Bo Schembechler," Hoke said. "It is an unbelievable likeness. Probably see in his eyes and his face ... what he was thinking at that moment. Probably wasn't good."
--- Heisman Trophy winners Charles Woodson and Desmond Howard were among the former players who returned to town this weekend.
Woodson caught an errant pass on the sideline during the scrimmage and pretended to run it back for a touchdown.