ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Crutching it around Ann Arbor for most of the winter Michigan senior quarterback Devin Gardner participated fully in Tuesday’s spring practice, the first of 15 for the Wolverines leading up to April 5’s spring game.
After reportedly breaking a bone in his foot requiring off-season surgery, Gardner shucked the crutches and the boot, now only requiring one little modification to ease his transition back onto the practice field.
“Just a plate in my shoe,” Gardner said. “It’s a plate so it doesn’t; I don’t really know what it’s for. It’s to help me.”
A surprise to even his teammates to see No. 98 take the practice field with them Tuesday, Gardner worked out and rehabbed with the idea of returning as soon as possible noting Coach Brady Hoke wasn’t going to let him rush anything.
Either way, Gardner is pleased to trade in the training bike for real work.
“My plan was to be ready as soon as possible so if that would’ve been in winter conditioning, if I would’ve been ready then, I would’ve been happy to be able play in that,” Gardner said. “But I’m happy to be able to participate in spring football.”
Not only was this Gardner’s first spring practice as a senior but also the first opportunity to get to work with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Though working with limited time in practice, Nussmeier is already making a strong impression and putting his handprint on his vision of the Michigan offense.
“It’s really fast, you get a lot of reps,” Gardner said. “It’s probably the fastest practice I’ve ever been a part of today so I feel like that’s going to benefit us in the long run.”
On the fast pace, Gardner added, “Coach Nuss definitely pushes tempo. Making sure we get to the ball fast, get the calls out, get the mikes out, do everything you need to at the line of scrimmage and then get the ball hiked.
“So, he’s pushing that and sometimes we go hurry up so we get more reps in.”
Boasting about his strong relationship off the field with former offensive coordinator Al Borges, Gardner is working on building a similar rapport with Nussmeier, already texting or calling with any questions on the new, full playbook being implemented.
“I’ve gotten to know him pretty good,” Gardner said. “He’s a very electric guy, he coaches really hard which is important for the quarterbacks. He demands a lot.”
Gardner ready for competition
For most of the 2013 season the quarterback depth chart, from an experience standpoint, was Devin Gardner and no one else.
Now looking at three other scholarship quarterbacks surrounding him with sophomore Shane Morris, redshirt junior Russell Bellomy and true freshman Wilton Speight, Gardner is eager to prove he is the guy ready to lead the Wolverines’ offense one more time in 2014.
“I mean I’ve been in competition since I’ve been here so I feel like it’s something that makes everybody better,” Gardner said. “It makes you so much of a better player it’s ridiculous.”
Morris, who made his first career start in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Dec. 28, impressed Gardner who was out following surgery to his foot.
“I think he did really good,” Gardner said. “Cause that first start is something, for it to be at the end of the season in the bowl game when you’ve been watching the whole year, that was a lot to put on him.
“He handled it really well. He had some mistakes like you would if you played every game or if it was just your first game in his, I’d say debut.”
Not only is competition ramped up at the quarterback position but also at wide receiver as Gardner looks to replace his favorite target in Jeremy Gallon, now off working to be a high draft pick in the NFL in May.
Despite limited time to develop timing and chemistry with relatively unproven wide receivers this winter, Gardner says that extra time will be put in now.
“I just feel like the competition is going to make everybody better and we’re going to get extra work just like me and Jeremy Gallon were,” Gardner said. “Whoever is out there is going to have a good connection.”