Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner transition Michigan from past to future with a smile
TAMPA, Fla. -- Devin Gardner was the country's top dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school. Then he spent two years buried on the depth chart before being displaced to receiver, a position he never preferred.
He had to watch Denard Robinson blossom into one of the most celebrated players in Michigan history, at the position he so earnestly wanted.
And he was cool with it.
Then Robinson injured his elbow Oct. 27, missed two games and, by the time he was healthy enough to play, the Gardner-directed offense had moved on without him.
Although Robinson says he can now pass, he still has lost the position and is expected to play a tailback/receiver/quarterback utility role in his career finale Tuesday against No. 11 South Carolina (10-2) in the Outback Bowl.
And he is cool with it.
This is terrifically unique.
Michigan has something special in Gardner and Robinson, friends and former roommates who are happy for one other, despite what should be an awkward situation as they transition the Wolverines from past to future.
Robinson starred at the position Gardner wanted. Then, watched as Gardner took his position with just four games left in his career.
There could be -- probably should be -- notes of bitterness. Neither is malicious, but both are competitive. Jealousy is the natural feeling, when something that defines you is ripped away.
But there is none of that.
"You would think it (would be hard for Denard), but he's such a great guy that I can't see it is a problem for him," Gardner said. "He hasn't changed at all, and he's actually helped me a lot."
The Outback Bowl will be defined by Robinson writing the final chapter of his legacy, and Gardner beginning his own. That's heady stuff, and both players understand it.
And, remarkably, both have embraced it.
Perhaps it speaks to their personalities. Robinson remains soft-spoken, while Gardner is an outgoing "clown." But both are chill. They roll with the punches, and in the end, just seek the greater good.
"It tells you, No. 1, he cares about his teammates, he cares about Michigan," Hoke said of Robinson. "He's always been that way. My experience with him, it's always been about his teammates, the affection he has for them and doing whatever it takes for us to be successful as a team."
Robinson broke into a wide smile when asked about Gardner's successes at his position.
"I feel like this is still a dream for me because I never really thought I'd be playing at Michigan," Robinson said. "We don't talk about that other stuff. We just talk about winning the game."
The Outback Bowl is the beginning of tomorrow, of 2013 -- and while the post-Robinson era once was defined by uncertainty, it now seems far more secure.
Gardner has led Michigan to a 3-1 record in Robinson's place, completing more than 60 percent of his passes, accounting for 15 touchdowns, converting third downs at better than a 60-percent clip.
And, while the soft-spoken Robinson had to work to become a leader, that role more naturally fits Gardner.
"Devin is one of those guys that people seem to follow -- a people magnet," Robinson said. "I think he's just as much a leader on this team as I am. He's funny, and I've never seen him in a grumpy mood.
"No bad days for this guy, seriously. He always has that smile on his face, an outgoing person. And who doesn't like being around an outgoing person?"
Gardner learned from Robinson while living with him his first two years on campus. He observed how Robinson handled the hype, which hit him in a flash in 2010. He saw how Robinson drowned out the noise.
He saw how Robinson's selflessless earned the respect of his teammates.
He made those traits his own, streamlining the transition at quarterback. A transition that began four games earlier than expected, giving Michigan a jump on its future.
"He's grown in the offense, knowing where to go with the ball better," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "The more you play, the better you understand, and he's just got a better feel. A little more body-learning. A little less sitting in the meeting hearing me say it (and) actually doing it makes a heckuva difference."
Gardner is simultaneously the present and future.
Robinson is the past, but with one last chance to shine.
They'll be on the field together, a snapshot of a program in transition, although neither at positions that were expected.
And they're both cool with it. Which is pretty cool.
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