The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 87 QB "He talks about how the sky's the limit," Gardner said. "But we won't be anywhere if we're starting the first day of camp. It's up to myself and the leaders on the team to make this summer pivotal. We've got to make sure everyone is working, not only getting stron- ger and faster, better at running routes, but making sure everyone knows the plays on everything we need to do. "We know it now. We've got to keep repping it and continue to get better, so it's a much smoother transition in camp, so we can get to game planning even faster." Nussmeier himself underscores the learning that needs to take place between now and Aug. 30, when the Wolverines open in earnest against Appalachian State. "It's understanding within the system of the passing game, with progression-oriented eyes and feet," he said. "From number one to number two to number three, and we drive our completion percentage up, hopefully, because of our understanding of where we want to go with the football versus each defense." Nussmeier talks about the absolute essentials for any quarterback, starting with ball security. Gardner struggled with that early last season, throwing those eight interceptions in non-conference action, while suffering some key fumbles along the way as well. When the interceptions went away, Michigan wasn't moving the chains consistently down the stretch. Despite his mantra regarding ball security and check-down passes to running backs, Nussmeier isn't will- ing to compromise anything on his way to a high-performing offense. "You try to have a balance between efficient and explosive plays," he explained. "Certain plays are built to be efficient, whether it be to throw a hitch, and you hope that becomes an explosive play because the receiver makes a defender miss and we get a run after catch. "Then there are plays where we're throwing a post pass, which is designed to be an explosive play, but it may become efficient, because he wasn't open and we checked the ball down to a running back and got a four-yard gain. That's all about playing the position. That's why it's the hardest position in all of sport to play. "It's a fine line between success and failure. The biggest thing for Devin is to play within the structure of the offense and use his natu- ral athletic ability to help him when things don't go the way they're supposed to." BIG TEN RANKINGS PLAYERS 1. Braxton Miller, Sr., Ohio State — Miller has passed for 5,292 yards, rushed for 3,054 yards and accounted for 84 touchdowns in his career. He's still seeking a Big Ten champi- onship as a starter and will need to stay healthy to get there. 2. Connor Cook, Jr., Michigan State — Cook came on to provide plenty of answers in a Rose Bowl championship season. He threw for 2,755 yards, 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions on the way to a Big Ten title. 3. Christian Hackenberg, So., Penn State — Hackenberg burst onto the Big Ten scene in a big way as a true freshman, throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He's only going to get better. 4. Devin Gardner, 5th-Sr., Michigan — Gardner averaged more passing yards in Big Ten games (269.9) last year than any other quarterback. He needs more assistance, and a full grasp of new QB coach Doug Nussmeier's system. 5. C.J. Brown, Sr., Maryland — Brown proved a significant dual threat, passing for 2,242 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago while rushing for 576 yards and 12 scores. He'll look to improve on that in a new league. 6. Joel Stave, Jr., Wisconsin — Stave's status could be in doubt, because of a shoulder injury he suffered against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. But his 2,494 passing yards and 22 touchdowns in 2013 make him a prime candidate to supplement Wisconsin's dominant run game once again. 7. Jake Rudock, Jr., Iowa — Rudock threw too many interceptions (13) a year ago, but passed for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns and will have an experienced line and top receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley back. 8. Nate Sudfeld, Jr., Indiana — Sudfeld is the strong arm in the Big Ten's top passing offense from a year ago, and that's saying a lot. With running quarterback Tre Roberson leaving Indiana, Sudfeld might play an even bigger role. 9. Tommy Armstrong, So., Nebraska — Armstrong stepped in for an injured Taylor Martinez last season, but now it's his show. He'll need to improve on a 51.9 percent completion rate. 10. Wes Lunt, So., Illinois — The import from Oklahoma State (where he threw for 1,108 yards and six touchdowns in 2012) is a BMOC (6-5, 215) in Champaign now, and looking to grab the starting job. UNITS 1. Ohio State — Miller leads the way, and he's often spectacular, but not indestructible. Sophomore backup Cardale Jones needs to be ready to go. 2. Michigan State — Cook should only get better following a Big Ten championship sojourn, while sophomore Tyler O'Connor is an up-and-comer who some thought might challenge last year. 3. Penn State — Hackenberg could turn out to be the Big Ten's best, while freshman Michael O'Connor brings plenty of backup talent to the Nittany Lions. 4. Michigan — Sophomore Shane Morris owns the big arm, and stepped in for starter Devin Gardner in Michigan's bowl game, giving the Wolverines a duo with at least one start each. 5. Wisconsin — Stave ran the show for the Badgers last year, but he's getting a strong challenge from dual-threat junior Tanner McEvoy. McEvoy is head coach Gary Anderson's first QB recruit, and took advantage of Stave's injury down time. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has thrown for 52 touch- downs and rushed for 32 more in his OSU career. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL PRESEASON ANALYSIS: QUARTERBACKS Starter ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ Fifth-year senior Devin Gardner has the tools to put forth record-setting performances, a fact he demonstrated last season. He needs more help around him, including better blocking and a credible rushing attack. He also needs to improve on his decision-making and grasp on new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's system, but he could be poised for a big year if some of the above falls into place. Depth ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ Finally, it seems, Michigan isn't one play away from being lost at the quarterback posi- tion. With Shane Morris getting a start in the bowl game, the Wolverines have a pair of backups who have been in the fire. Redshirt junior Russell Bellomy is coming back from a knee injury in 2013, and true freshman Wilton Speight enjoys a freshman QB luxury — learning at a reasonable pace. X-Factor It's Nussmeier, no doubt. What effect does he have on Michigan's quarterbacks and, in the bigger picture, the Wolverines' offense as a whole as the offensive coordinator? The quarterbacks need an improved cast around them, as well as skills advancement and immersion into what Nussmeier demands. This will be a huge fall camp for all concerned. Overall ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ It's easy to look at Gardner's talent, Morris' up-and-coming ability, and Michigan's depth at the position in making big predictions about the fall. So why are pundits skep- tical about the Wolverines on offense? That's easy — the quarterback cannot operate without some high-level parts around him, and U-M faltered in that area last season. They should be very solid at quarterback, but another 36 sacks and a sub-par running game would doom most any high hopes. Note: Star rankings are made on a scale of 1-5 stars. 86-90.QBs.indd 87 6/19/14 8:51 AM

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