Wolverines gambled with Gardner

The situation was destined to happen at some point during the 2012 season. Denard Robinson misses more than a half of football and leaves the QB-keys to Russell Bellomy. Where does the quarterback position go from here?

Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson has spent his fair share of time receiving treatment in the training room or on the sideline throughout his career for the Wolverines. Fortunately, Robinson hasn't been forced to miss extended time due to bumps and bruises that come with playing division one football. But throughout Robinson's career, a capable back-up has always been waiting in the wings: whether it was Tate Forcier in 2010 or Devin Gardner in 2011, each were ready to come in for a series here, two snaps there, or even an entire quarter in order to fill the void.

Saturday night in Lincoln, when Robinson went down with an apparent injury to his hand, number sixteen gave way to redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy. With just one career completion under his belt, and a tight contest, raucous atmosphere, and little help surrounding him, Bellomy did what most inexperienced, redshirt freshmen would do in that situation – he struggled. Bellomy finished the game 3-16 for just 38 yards and three interceptions.

But what else was expected?

The offense hadn't been putting points on the board even with Robinson in the game, not to mention the fact that despite the previous week's win over Michigan State, the offense failed to produce one offensive touchdown.

Monday, junior left tackle Taylor Lewan came to the defense of Bellomy and questioned anyone who rained criticism down on him for his spot duty performance against the Cornhuskers.

"I have 100% faith in Russell," said Lewan. "I think Russell – it was a tough situation to go in. Any person that thinks, like, ‘Well I could have done a better job' – no you couldn't have. And 90,000 screaming fans in red shirts screaming at you and you're a redshirt freshman. That's a tough situation for anybody to be in.

"All these things that are being told about Russell, I don't appreciate it," Lewan snapped. "'Cause Russell's my quarterback—Denard, Devin, Jack Kennedy, anybody who's in that game it's a tough spot to be in. I really don't appreciate some of the things I heard."

What was heard throughout the spring, into fall camp and now into the regular season is that the development of Bellomy was coming along quickly, and this eventually played a large part in the decision to move Devin Gardner out to the wide receiver position on a permanent basis for the 2012 season. Bellomy has the size, mobility and mental approach to be a solid quarterback during his career at Michigan, and with a little extra seasoning he might even ready to be the starter at some point.

But that point was not last Saturday.

In similar instances during the 2011 season as Robinson's backup, Gardner didn't necessarily showcase the five-star ability he boasted coming out of Inkster High School. At the same time, Gardner showed flashes of offensive production for a quarterback who, like Bellomy, needed more snaps in game situations to build a higher comfort level.

At the same time, going into the 2012 season help was and is needed at receiver, there's no doubt about that. And besides, taking a chance in an effort to put a 6'4, 200 pound athlete, possibly even the best athlete on the team, on the field in a playmaking situation isn't necessarily a bad idea. But it's clear the Michigan coaches were gambling on Robinson's health and his ability to remain in one piece for the entirety of the season so the removal of Gardner under center wouldn't prove too costly.

But after a disastrous offensive performance in Nebraska, Gardner will see extra snaps in practice this week in preparation for another unplanned and early exit for Robinson.

"We will do that as a precautionary thing," said Head Coach Brady Hoke Monday. "Give him some more snaps, him and Russell both. Which means you'll add a couple more plays to your script that you're working off of for practice, but we'll do that."

With zero room for error in the final four games of conference play, Michigan can't afford to keep any chips off the table.

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