Hoke talks Devin Gardner, offense at Media Days

BY foxsports • July 24, 2013

Brady Hoke likes his team, and he wants them to win the Big Ten championship.

The second part of that sentence is not surprising -- Michigan's goal at the start of every season is to win the conference title -- but the first part is unusual for Hoke.

"I don't usually like my team during the summer," Hoke said during Wednesday's media appearance at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. "But I liked this team at the end of the spring, and I still do."

There's very little news during the endless parade of coaches on Wednesday. They only get 15 minutes a piece and some of that is used up on slightly odd questions. Hoke was asked about a cancer being named after Michigan, a genuinely heartwarming story. He also fielded a query on how Detroit's bankruptcy will affect the Wolverines. Hoke struggled for a moment on that one, but eventually assured everyone that the Wolverines are cheering for the city.

In the time he had left, Hoke talked a lot about quarterback Devin Gardner, but first he made sure to point out the sacrifice made by Taylor Lewan. The star offensive tackle shocked everyone by turning down a chance to be the top pick in the NFL draft to return for his senior season.

"Devin has some strong help when it comes to leadership on his side of the ball, because of Taylor Lewan," Hoke said. "The decision he made in January says a lot about football at Michigan."

Gardner started last season at wide receiver, but moved back to his favorite position when Denard Robinson went down with an elbow injury. Hoke stressed Wednesday that the return was always going to happen.

"He showed a lot of unselfishness by moving to receiver, but that's part of Devin's DNA," he said. "He was coming back to quarterback this spring either way, so the games he played last season were important to give him some reps in games. That will help him this year as our starter."

The Wolverines will move to Hoke's preferred pro-style offense this season, now that he's not limited by Robinson's poor passing skills. Gardner was also a spread quarterback in high school, but he uses his mobility more for roll-out passes than planned runs. His biggest focus will be to cut down on the turnovers that plagued the Wolverines last season. Many of those came from ill-advised passes from Robinson, but Gardner had his own issues with fumbles.

"We were 8-5 a year ago, and that's unacceptable at Michigan," Hoke said, causing Rich Rodriguez to twitch two time zones away. "That has to change, and that's why it is important that we have a quarterback who understands the positions, and knows how important it is to make the right decisions."

If Gardner goes down, though, the Wolverines have a problem. Hoke said Michigan looked at transfer possibilities, but decided to stick with what they have -- true freshman Shane Morris, a highly touted recruit who missed most of his senior year with mononucleosis, and redshirt freshman Brian Cleary. Neither one has played a college game.

Hoke said that, in his 30 years of coaching, he's rarely been on a team that had to go to its backup quarterback, apparently forgetting what he had said moments earlier about Gardner getting important playing time after Robinson's injury.

Of course, that's what Media Days are all about. Even Indiana and Illinois are confident, so it isn't a surprise that Hoke thinks everything will work out at quarterback. Will that be enough to bring him that elusive conference championship?

To get there, the Wolverines will probably have to do something they've never attempted before -- beat Ohio State at the Big House and then turn around and knock off the Buckeyes again in Indianapolis.