Is Michigan QB Devin Gardner ready for his close-up?

Devin Gardner is trying to be a leader both on and off the field. (USATSI)
Devin Gardner is trying to be a leader both on and off the field. (USATSI)

As Michigan fans are well aware, Devin Gardner has taken over in a full-time capacity as the Wolverines starting quarterback. After playing part-time behind Denard Robinson in 2012, and also seeing time at wide receiver, the Detroit native officially seized starting QB duties this past spring.

So what's Gardner's biggest improvement since focusing on that position alone? Footwork? Accuracy? Reading defenses?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong, if you listen to him.

“I’ve become a great leader, I feel,” Gardner said from Wednesday's Big Ten media day. “I’m able to help the young guys come along. The guys who are highly recruited, but don’t play right away, I can help them so much because I was that kid. I let them know to never quit and keep working hard.”

Gardner's been a leader in the classroom as well. He picked up his bachelor’s degree in May after three-and-a-half years, and is now in enrolled in graduate school.

All-American candidate Taylor Lewan, who will be guarding Gardner’s blind side from his left tackle spot, sees growth too.  “He doesn’t get a big head in the limelight,” Lewan said of Gardner. “He’s all about competition and getting better.  He’s now pushing guys in conditioning and is out throwing every week.”

While all of that is nice, Big Blue fans are expecting him to lead on the field too. Michigan coach Brady Hoke thinks Gardner gives him some options that he didn’t really have with Robinson, who was a better fit in former coach Rich Rodriguez's offense.

Hoke is committed to a pro-style attack, and he thinks Gardner’s size (6-4, 210) will help him find passing lanes that Robinson might have missed.  Hoke also likes his “dual-threat capability, and that he spins the ball a little tighter (than Robinson).”

Safety Thomas Gordon, who defends Gardner in practice every day, sees the growth that comes with playing quarterback full time. Gordon says, “He’s much more comfortable back there. He’s locked in, smoother and not as erratic.”

Lewan says you’ll notice the changes in the offense.  “We’ll be under center more, doing more drop-back passing, more power running,” Lewan said.  “It’s still the same playbook, but you’ll see some plays more often than you have in the past.”

Where Gardner’s leadership and maturity will be really put to the test is in the realm of taking care of the football.  Hoke said, “He understand that the decisions he makes (with the ball) will be very important.”  Michigan’s offense will not be good enough to win this league if Gardner can’t improve on Robinson’s 1-1 TD-to-INT ratio.

Gordon is particularly optimistic about Gardner.  “He’s going to be a sight to see.”

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jerry Palm started writing about sports on the Internet right after Al Gore invented it. He was the first to bring RPI out in the open and is one of the pioneers of predicting the March Madness bracket.... Full Bio

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