Devin Gardner's performance in Michigan's 42-17 drubbing of Iowa was about as efficient as they come. Gardner completed 78.3 percent of his passes and threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns.
It may be too early to crown him as the next Joe Montana, but Gardner clearly established himself as a likely candidate to start at quarterback next season for the Wolverines.
Michigan fans should be excited about Gardner's future at quarterback. He has mobility, accuracy and a surprisingly strong pocket presence for a converted wideout who has only played three games at quarterback this season. Furthermore, he's only going to improve with more experience.
In just three games, Gardner has thrown for 834 yards and seven touchdowns. He's been a key to the Wolverines offense in recent weeks and has allowed Brady Hoke to move Denard Robinson around to confuse defenses.
However, Gardner's emergence at quarterback could set back incoming Michigan recruit Shane Morris' plans to start as a true freshman under center in 2013. With Robinson graduating after this season, it would have been logical to expect Morris to come in and compete early for the starting quarterback position. Although it's never ideal to start a freshman at quarterback, Morris' raw talent would have made him a possible exception.
Morris has just about everything a coach could ever want in a quarterback. He has good height at 6'3", solid arm strength, athleticism in the pocket, the ability to accurately read defenses at the line of scrimmage, and he makes good decisions with the football.
Granted, the Big Ten is a completely different ballgame than high school football, but Morris' skill set is undeniable. ESPN ranked him as the 54th best Class of 2013 recruit in the nation and the fourth best player at his position.
Although Morris needs to improve his accuracy and add some muscle, he has elite arm strength. Morris can make any throw on the field and can do so with authority. His arm strength will force defenses to defend the entire football field and could increase the efficiency with which Michigan runs its offense. Morris also has good athleticism and an ability to play outside the pocket if needed. Opponents are going to have a tough time accounting for all his physical attributes.
However, with Gardner's stellar play at quarterback this season, it's imperative that Shane Morris redshirts to start 2013.
Although Morris has the talent and the intangibles to play early in his career, there is no harm in having him sit out a season and get used to the speed of the game. Gardner is more than capable of keeping Michigan in any game they play next year.
Redshirting Morris would also give Michigan a year in which to recruit the personnel to put around him. Michigan currently runs a spread-option, speed-oriented offense with mobile quarterbacks and big-play receivers. Morris is a pocket passer who needs a strong running game in order to stay effective.
Redshirting him would enable the Wolverines to begin preparing their playbook for Morris' eventual takeover at quarterback. This means recruiting bigger offensive linemen and tailbacks that excel between the tackles.
Shane Morris is going to have a bright future at Michigan. However, Gardner's recent play should allow the Wolverines to save their star recruit for an extra season and allow him time to develop into the dominant player he is projected to become.
There is no reason to rush Morris onto the field next season. He has potential, but there is always a learning curve for freshmen. It would be wise to let him experience that learning curve first on the practice field, instead of in front of over 100,000 fans in the Big House.
The expectations on the young quarterback are already significant. The Michigan coaching staff would be wise to allow Morris to develop further before putting him up against some of the best defenses the nation has to offer.
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