November 17, 2012; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (12) runs the ball against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Quarterback Devin Gardner Working With George Whitfield

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner finished the 2012 season strong, and heads into the 2013 season with a high ceiling. The Wolverines senior could evolve into one of the top play makers in the Big Ten Conference, and is working with renowned quarterback guru George Whitfield to help along his progression.

Gardner wasn’t guaranteed to play quarterback a year ago. The Detroit prep standout was recruited to run Rich Rodriguez’s version of the spread option offense, but the transition to Brady Hoke’s coaching staff changed Gardner’s role.

Some of the spread option pieces Rodriguez brought to Ann Arbor were square pegs for the round holes of offensive coordinator Al Borges’ West Coast system. Gardner was converted to wide receiver last spring, while Russell Bellomy moved to the No. 1.5 quarterback on Michigan’s depth chart behind square peg Denard Robinson. Bellomy was a signee of Hoke’s first Wolverine recruiting class, and he got the call when Robinson was sidelined.

But Bellomy’s struggles and a decided lack of depth at quarterback forced the hands of Hoke and Borges. Gardner emerged as the solution Michigan had sought all along, closing out the campaign with 11 passing touchdowns to five interceptions and 9.7 yards per completion.

Gardner is firmly settled into the No. 1 role. He finished Michigan spring practices with an 11-for-16 showing in the Wolverine spring game. Gardner could even climb into the 2014 NFL draft discussion, which is where Whitfield comes into the picture.

Gardner’s ascent mirrors similar, notable examples of players asked to take on another position later excelling at quarterback. Kansas State Wildcats Heisman finalist Collin Klein was moved from receiver before the 2011 season. Mack Brown famously recruited both Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel to play defensive back for the Texas Longhorns.

Of note for Manziel is that he, like Gardner, worked with Whitfield.

Manziel was the breakout star of college football a season ago and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. He is an outlier, deviating tremendously from the prototypical quarterback at a very generously (if not egregiously) listed 6-foot-1. Manziel’s body type is not what generally passes as NFL material — Gardner is. At 6-foot-4, he lands square in the range professional scouts covet.

Manziel made his name equally with his feet as with his arm. While Michigan has deliberately inched away from the style that demands such play, Gardner still seven rushing touchdowns last season. While Borges is likely to limit the amount of freelancing Gardner does, the Michigan quarterback can make the most of such opportunities.

Combine his play-making abilities with the refinement Whitfield is guiding him in, and the sky is indeed the limit for Gardner in 2013.

Tags: Football Michigan Wolverines

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