Gardner Gets It
The walking embodiment of Michigan’s offseason introspection is without question Devin Gardner. Age, experience, and a willingness to be self-critical have led to what he believes is his growth into a much better leader. During his Big Ten Media Day roundtable session today Gardner also spoke on his improvement technically and gave a great of the credit for his growth in that area to Doug Nussmeier.
“I think people forget (last year) was very first year starting,” said Gardner. “I feel like Coach Nuss has done a great job of making me feel very confident in my skills and abilities, and confident in him that he is going to put me I n the best position to be successful.”
To be clear, Gardner has always been a confident football player, but adversity can cause even the strongest-minded person to pause. 2013 was wrought with adversity, but looking back on it the fifth-year senior is pleased with how he bounced back from it.
“I played three games with nobody having any film on me,” Gardner said reflecting upon the 2012 campaign. “I don’t think people understood that. I played three or four games… and didn’t even start the Ohio game. It’s a lot easier to play when no one has film on you and you’re a really good athlete. Towards the end of (last) year I cut down on the turnovers. People had film on me and I was still able to do a lot of the things I’m good at, so that was encouraging for me and I just can’t wait to get into this year.”
Not just excited to see how much better he has gotten, but equally excited to witness the improvement of those around him.
“I had to write down two goals,” Gardner said revealing an offseason exercise. “My two goals were to be the most consistent player I could be and to help Shane and Wilton become the best quarterbacks they can be. Those are two things I’ve worked very hard on this summer and I feel like I’ve done a great job of it.”
“Jehu Chesson has done a great job and I feel like he is a guy that has definitely done it right academically and as a person. He has worked so hard and been in the shadow for so long that I feel like he is just ready to explode this year. He has done really well this summer and worked so hard on being a great teammate and a great football player, so I’m really excited for him.”
Another Player Poised to Break Out
Joe Bolden was singled out by Greg Mattison as the defensive player that turned in the best spring. Hoke singled him out also.
“I thought (Bolden) did a nice job being a QB on the defense,” said Hoke. “We were all very excited about how instinctively he played…how he grew from that standpoint… and how he got stronger.”
Hearing such praise from the coaches is one thing, hearing it from one the top players on the team is another. Especially when that player is Jake Ryan, a youngster notorious for his generalities when discussing program matters.
“(Bolden) did (turn in the spring’s top performance,” said Ryan. “He helped me out tremendously. Whenever I had a question, whenever someone else had a question, (Bolden had the answer). “He’s a smart guy, he knows the game of football, and he has been playing the position for a while, so it’s great to have that guy right next to me.”
The Return of Will Carr
Will Carr was a havoc-wreaker in the middle of Michigan’s defense from 93-96, and now he is back at Michigan in a graduate-assistant capacity. In a very short period of time he has had a significant impact on Frank Clark.
“I’ve never had so many 1-on-1s at Michigan until (Carr) got here these last two months,” said Clark. “As people know that have been Michigan fans, I’m sure y’all know about Willy Carr. The things he is trying to teach me, the things he is saying, the things he is trying to introduce to me… the new things and techniques… those are things that I really needed. This is the first time I’ve had some one specifically sit down in a one-on-one type of atmosphere and really coach me on what I need to do to get better… to tell me, “oh no you’re not using that move ever again… you’re going to develop one thing…you’re going to work your hands all the time. Basically just having someone like that is a blessing.”
Oreos in Schembechler
Much has been made of the team growing closer this season. According to Clark, it’s not just talk. It’s something very tangible.
“You can feel it in the locker room,” said Clark. “It’s not just a bunch of guys sitting over here (to themselves). When we’re at a team dinner it’s not a group of guys (off to themselves). As our weight room coach calls it… Coach Wellman, he says, ‘let’s make Oreos baby!’ It’s not about a black or white thing at the end of the day. It just unknowingly doing something that you haven’t really thought about. So when you come out and see a group of guys sitting over here before we go in the weight room, and a group of guys sitting over (there)… then coach says, ‘come on, let’s make Oreos, everyone knows what that means.”
Willie Henry Answering the Bell
Henry was one of the most improved youngsters on the defense last year, but defensive line coach Mark Smith’s offseason challenge to the rising lineman to mature was extremely noteworthy. Clark, who was held up as an example to his young teammate, has noticed an extremely positive response.
“I have seen some growth in Willie,” said Clark. “He struggled in the past like I struggled when I came to Michigan. It’s just new. When you come from where we come from and you’ve got a guy like (Cleveland Glenville headman) Coach (Ted) Ginn, that’s a guy you’re going to listen to your whole life. You don’t think that there is another guy out here like coach Ginn… until you get to Michigan and Coach Hoke is just like Coach Ginn. He’s like another fatherly figure in your life. Willie struggled with the trust factor just like I struggled with the trust factor when I first got here. But when he finally began to understand, ‘these coaches love you… these coaches have your best interest (at heart)… these coaches want to look out for you’… when he finally understood that, that’s when he started to relax (and) let his guard down. He wasn’t so defensive, and everything started to fall into place for him. And as yall saw in the last few games where he took over the starting role he did what he had to do.”
Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine for much more from Gardner, Clark, and Ryan in the hours and days to come.