Shane Morris was always Michigan’s backup quarterback.
However, he didn’t officially earn the title until Thursday, when Wolverines coach Brady Hoke introduced the freshman as the second option behind starter Devin Gardner.
As Hoke told reporters, via Andy Reid of TheWolverine.com:
We just thought he moved forward. We pretty much decided after Saturday [first scrimmage]. He had done a good job before then.…He's learning the offense every day. He throws the ball, spins it, really well. The timing's pretty good.
Morris enters the fold with the necessary credentials and physical attributes. At 6’3”, 201 pounds, he has the size required to run a headlining offense. He also has the hype: a 4-star ranking from 247Sports.
He was the No. 81-ranked player of his class and was offered by, among others, recent national champions Alabama and Auburn.
Shelving Morris for a year would have been ideal. But when Russell Bellomy, the assumed backup, went down in spring practice with a torn ACL, the need to speed up Morris’ progression became increasingly apparent.
Why Morris Makes Sense
A bout with mono kept him from playing his entire senior year at Warren De La Salle. And other than a shaky 2-for-10 performance in the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game, he hasn’t taken a ton of snaps since his junior season.
That changes things, right?
Morris made it through camp with flying colors, impressing coaches enough to earn their confidence while hopping Brian Cleary for the No. 2 job. Morris’ talent is obvious, and it’s going to be used sooner than later.
"It's all the things you guys (already) know," Gardner recently said of Morris to MLive.com’s Nick Baumgardner. "He has a strong arm. And he's a competitor."
Thus far, he’s lived up to his ranking. Freshmen of Morris’ ilk are supposed to be the “next guy.” If Michigan had a walk-on instead of Morris backing up Devin Gardner, the future wouldn’t look nearly as bright for a program swiftly gaining national prestige under Hoke.
The Slippery Slope
That’s what’s on Morris, and that’s what will be on him for the duration of his career in Ann Arbor. As the first prime-timer of the Hoke era, someone will watch his every move.
In 2012, Bellomy didn’t have that weighing on him when he took over for Denard Robinson, who was sidelined against Nebraska.
At that point, the game was a wash. Bellomy got rocked and Michigan lost, 23-9. But it wasn’t that big of a deal. Bellomy didn’t come to Michigan with the same national hype as Morris, and the real question was why Gardner wasn’t put in at quarterback.
Now, put Morris into a situation like that—and there are several potential Nebraskas lurking down the road—and there could be various reactions.
Some fans may give him a pass, saying he’s not yet ready and to wait a year, reminding others how he was forced into the role.
OK, fair enough.
Others, though, may scrutinize a lackluster showing in much the same way as they hammered Bellomy—or worse.
He’ll likely see time in Week 1 against Central Michigan, Week 3 against Akron and Week 4 against UConn. With the exception of a Big Ten mop-up call, Morris probably won’t see much time after the first month of the season.
Entering the season ranked at No. 17 by The Associated Press and considered a favorite in the Big Ten, Michigan has the potential to cruise through the early part of its schedule.
Other than Week 2’s matchup with Notre Dame, there aren’t any heavies in the way until Nov. 2—that’s when Michigan State hosts Hoke and Co.
The duel with the Spartans raises concern. In years past, they did a great of job containing Robinson and making him a non-factor. Keying on Gardner—and hitting him a little harder to make up for last year’s loss—will most certainly be the plan of Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio.
If injured, Gardner will give way to his understudy. Morris is now truly one snap away from being the No. 1.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81