Michigan 'Ask Kyle' questions answered: Will Devin Gardner play quarterback or receiver next year?
ANN ARBOR -- Former quarterback Devin Gardner leads Michigan in every notable receiving statistic.
That's a solution for his year, as it addresses a weakness at receiver. But it's a question for next year, as Michigan searches for a successor to quarterback Denard Robinson.
Gardner has quickly become a fan favorite, after scoring touchdowns on three of his first eight catches at receiver, and was a hot topic in this week's mailbag. That includes side issues such as whether Gardner will throw any passes this year, and whether Michigan should move Roy Roundtree back into the slot.
Of course, there's also that pesky matchup Saturday against No. 11 Notre Dame (7:30 p.m. NBC). All of it was hit in this week's 'bag (questions edited for brevity/grammar):
Question: When 5-star QB commit Shane Morris joins U-M next season, do you think Devin Gardner will remain a WR or will he switch back to QB? -- TulsaTom
Answer: Devin Gardner has played just three games as a receiver. He is getting a better handle on the nuances of the position, but still is relying mostly on his physical gifts.
And yet, he's already the Wolverines' top receiver.
That's my way of saying that if I were a betting man, I'd bet on Gardner lining up at receiver next year against UConn. He's 6-foot-4 and possesses all the physical tools -- size, speed, ball skills -- of an NFL receiver. He's nowhere close to being a finished product, but given a season and offseason to work into it, Gardner could become even better than Junior Hemingway -- and Hemingway was drafted.
And let's remember, Gardner wasn't exactly Tom Brady when he did play quarterback. He struggled last year in limited duty, completing 11-of-23 passes for 176 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Denard Robinson receives criticism for his passing -- and Gardner has looked worse. He didn't look any better in the spring game this year.
Gardner's position for 2013 won't be decided for a long time. There are a lot of mitigating factors, including the development of quarterback Russell Bellomy and the arrival of recruit Shane Morris. But if one of those guys proves capable -- and my guess is Bellomy will -- then Michigan will do all it can to keep Gardner at receiver. But if Bellomy and Morris flop, then the Wolverines will have an interesting decision to make.
The best bet, though: Gardner is at receiver for good.
Question: Any chance we'll see Gardner throw a pass to Denard Robinson this year? -- Sara Conley
Answer: There isn't just a chance -- there's a good one. Why not try it?
Offensive coordinator Al Borges showed last year that he's not afraid to experiment, including with getting Gardner and Robinson on the field at the same time in the deuce series. Now, he doesn't even have to change his lineup to do it. Think about it: Opponents could watch Gardner come into games last year and be prepared for the trickery. Now, U-M could just line up Gardner at quarterback instead of receiver and really baffle defenses.
I thought the deuce formation was a terrific success. Not only did it average more than 8 yards per play -- up from 6.2 overall -- but it gave defenses something else to worry about, and future defenses something else to prepare for. That's win-win.
Gardner never threw Robinson a pass, but it's not difficult to imagine that happening, given Borges' taste for creativity. And he has the personnel to pull it off.
Question: Since Gardner and tight end Devin Funchess are becoming a part of the offense, why don’t we put Roy Roundtree in the slot position where he’s more productive? -- Gretchen
Answer: That's an excellent question, Gretchen, and I don't really have an answer for you. Roundtree led Michigan in receiving as a freshman, then had a monster 72-catch season as a sophomore in the slot. He averaged 4.2 catches and 54.8 yards per game those years.
Since moving outside last year, Roundtree is averaging 1.5 catches and 24.8 yards per game. He's caught just 24 balls in that time.
There is a lot of noise in that data, including a scheme change in 2011. The slot receiver got a lot of action under Rich Rodriguez, which boosted Roundtree's stats, and Borges prefers to spray it around.
But his profile and skill-set does suggest he's more of a slot-type. And with the rise of Devin Gardner, who is 6-4, there is a guy who fits the profile of a flanker. But it doesn't appear to be on the horizon. Coach Brady Hoke said a couple weeks ago Roundtree is sticking at flanker.
We just don't know why.
Question: Denard has accounted for about 15,000 yards in his career against Notre Dame. Why is he so awesome against ND? -- Mik
Answer: You were close, Mik. Robinson has 948 yards of offense in his two starts against Notre Dame, which is nuts. He also has three fourth-quarter comebacks in the two games, which is even nuttier.
But why has he been so successful in the series? Hard to say. He wouldn't say much of anything about it this week, so we are left to speculate.
The 2010 game can be explained by Rich Rodriguez's usage of Robinson, which was significant. Robinson noted this week how many hits he took in that game, because he carried the ball so much (28 times, second most in his career). He put up big numbers that year, but also got banged up.
ND appeared to be focused on stopping the run last year against Robinson, and were mostly successful, especially for the first three quarters. But he busted loose for some big fourth-quarter passes, including completions of 45, 27, 21 and 64 yards. And maybe that's been his signature in the series -- big plays.
Robinson has 12 plays of at least 20 yards against Notre Dame, four of which scored touchdowns. One was an 87-yard run in 2010, which remains the longest run in the storied history of Notre Dame Stadium.
Beyond that: Who knows why Robinson has gutted Notre Dame? Let's just enjoy the show, which is down to its final act.
Question: Do you think the Michigan-Notre Dame series ends when Notre Dame joins the ACC? -- TulsaTom
Answer: I gave up a long time ago trying to project the decision making of college football power brokers, but my gut says the series won't end. What could change is the frequency at which the teams play -- maybe this will turn into a few years on, few years off kind of deal, or maybe they play every other year.
Notre Dame likely will have scheduling obligations that prevent it from playing Michigan annually. But to say the series will end is probably not accurate.
The two programs like playing each other, there's history there, it's a rivalry and both programs are on the rise. That makes this a likely marriage, as teams look to bolster schedule strength with the playoff set for 2014.