Michigan puts faith in Gardner


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Devin Gardner almost left Michigan. He thought about it when he was behind then-starter Denard Robinson for two seasons. Gardner hadn’t ever been a backup in his life. Being one made him bitter.

Near the end of last season, Robinson went down with an injury. Gardner stepped in to start four of the final five games, and Michigan went 3-2. It was a small glimpse of what Maize and Blue fans will see this season with Gardner now the man behind center.

“He really showed a lot of unselfishness by moving to wide receiver, and it really became part of his DNA and what he wanted to do to help the football team,” Michigan football coach Brady Hoke said about Gardner at Big Ten media days last month. “With Denard obviously getting hurt, the opportunity for Devin to get experience and move back to quarterback meant a lot. And it meant a lot for his experience and how he learned from those things, good and bad in spring ball.”

Gardner is now the leader of a Michigan team that is favored to win the Legends Division. With him returns a slew of impact playmakers that will make the Wolverine offense a huge threat.

Jeremy Gallon is in his final season and will likely be Michigan’s most lethal receiver. He enters his final campaign having caught a pass in 26-straight games.

Fitzgerald Toussaint is the most experienced running back on the team after suffering a season-ending injury last year against Iowa. During a healthy 2011, Toussaint eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. He’s just the 31st Michigan football player to reach that feat.

The lone offensive worry for Michigan resides on the line — particularly, the interior line. Seniors Taylor Lewan, likely an All-American and future NFL draft pick, and Michael Schofield will man the exterior lines while inexperience fills in the middle.

“The inside three spots are totally up for grabs right now,” Schofield said at Michigan’s media day on Aug. 11 in a release. “… definitely the most competition. It’s exciting because we’ve never had that competition on the offensive line, and everyone’s working as hard as he can to get that spot.”

The Michigan defense returns as one of the nations best. The Wolverines ranked 13th in total defense at the end of the 2012 season — much of that being credited to the fifth-ranked pass defense.

Leading that unit is safety Thomas Gordon. He’s appeared in 35 games over his career with 27 starts. He’s picked off 3 passes and broken up 4 more in his career.

The versatile Jake Ryan also returns to the defense. A team captain, Ryan has played in 26 games — 24 of them starts —both linebacker and defensive end. (The most recent Michigan depth chart marked Ryan as injured; he’s set to return by mid-October after recovering from an ACL tear.)

For Michigan, there is another big source of motivation for this coming season: It is the last before next year’s division switch, which places Michigan and Ohio State in the same division. This means 2013 is Michigan’s last chance to play Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game (at least until the conference realigns again).

“I think it’s great, for either team, to make history,” Gardner said at Big Ten media days. “If we can beat those guys twice, or if they can beat us twice … it’s an opportunity. It’s another opportunity to make history.”

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