SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There was no sign of Devin Gardner on the field Christmas morning.
Three days before the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the quarterback did not practice with the rest of his teammates, and as the Michigan football team gets closer to the weekend, the possibility of Gardner playing in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is minimal.
Freshman quarterback Shane Morris worked with the first-team offense Wednesday morning at Chaparral High School, and this will likely be the norm for the Wolverines (7-5) in the final days of their season.
While the media was allowed to watch 25 minutes of Wednesday’s practice, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke did not speak with reporters. Earlier in the week, Hoke said Gardner would have to practice by Wednesday in order to play Saturday against Kansas State (7-5). If not, Morris would start at Sun Devil Stadium.
Gardner has not practiced this month because of turf toe, sustained Nov. 30 against Ohio State, and the redshirt junior has worn a walking boot on his left leg since then. Gardner threw for 2,960 yards and ran for 483 in 12 games this season but has not been made available to the media since Michigan’s 42-41 loss to No. 7 Ohio State on Nov. 30.
Enter Morris, who is 5 for 9 for 65 yards with one interception in four games for the Wolverines (7-5).
“He was recruited here, and if he’s going to play, we’re not going to put somebody in there who’s not ready to play,” Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “If he does play, his biggest thing is to stay confident. We gave up a lot of sacks this year and he know’s he’s going to get hit. It’s our job to keep him safe.”
Behind Gardner, Michigan does not have substantial experience at quarterback. In addition to Morris, Russell Bellomy and Brian Cleary practiced in orange non-contact jerseys at quarterback. Bellomy was cleared to practice earlier this month after he underwent reconstructive ACL surgery in May. In five career games, the redshirt sophomore is 4 for 21 passing for 46 yards and was intercepted four times, and has 12 carries for 16 yards. Cleary, a redshirt freshman, played in one game this season as a reserve quarterback.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s been doing a pretty good job,” wide receiver Jehu Chesson said of Morris, a former five-star recruit from De La Salle High School in Warren, Mich. “Like Taylor said, we’re not going to put somebody into the game whom we don’t feel can play. Even though he is who he is, he’s Shane Morris. He’s not Devin Gardner, so he’s going to get out there and do what Shane Morris does. That’s what a Michigan quarterback is expected of him.”
Which begs the question: What does a Michigan quarterback do?
“They go out there, they lead the offense and tell people what to do, and kind of boss people around,” Chesson said of Morris, a 6-foot-3 left-handed quarterback. “Shane’s very assertive, just like Devin is assertive. He gets everybody lined up well and he’s been doing a fantastic job. You just have to get adjusted to it, and we’ve been getting adjusted to Shane, because it’s our job to catch the ball. It’s our job to make plays. He puts the ball in the air and we have to go get it.
“It’s just a matter of him being able to read the right defenses and putting the ball where it’s supposed to be, like he can do.”
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said Tuesday that the Wolverines are scaling back their playbook for Morris, who likely will make his first start.
“As it becomes more apparent that he could be starting, we have to be very judicious about how we go about repping him in terms of what plays to run, the ones he knows the best and understands the best,” Borges said.