ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Looking back on the 2013 season for the Michigan offense, a couple of glaring issues jump right to mind.
First, lack of a running game. Second, zero cohesion along the offensive line. Third, turnover trouble at an inexcusable rate.
Diving into the latter two, beginning with turnovers, more specifically interceptions, Michigan senior quarterback Devin Gardner feels he made great progress in that category the more starts he added to his belt.
“I feel like I did a good job of that last year in the last six games or so,” Gardner said. “I threw one interception or so. I feel like I made strides with that last year and I’m just continuing.”
Gardner isn’t wrong, actually.
Of Gardner’s 11 interceptions a year ago, 10 came in the first six games against what most would call the least difficult half with a weak non-conference schedule and relatively easy start to Big Ten play against Minnesota and Penn State.
Gardner’s lone interception in the second half of the year came in a blowout loss at Michigan State.
Obviously, part of the reason Gardner’s interceptions dipped significantly, especially in a rather treacherous November slate of games, are his sack numbers.
Constantly looking to make a play even when nothing is there, Gardner was pelted by sack after sack, including 14 total over a two game span against the Spartans and in a home loss against Nebraska.
This year, Gardner feels like first year Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is working to change that approach and limit the massive amount of lost yardage from last season as plays breakdown.
“Coach Nuss is a very demanding person when it comes to that and he expresses those are winning plays,” Gardner said. “He says completion percentage is the most overrated part of a quarterback’s game cause you don’t get points for throwing the ball away, which is a winning play to help your team.
“It took me a little while to grasp that during the spring but right now I’m throwing the ball away more than ever and making sure that we’re able to keep the field position that we like, get a chance to punt, and we’ll get the ball back.”
When Michigan coach Brady Hoke was asked what he’d like to see Gardner continue to improve as camp goes on, it became clear coach and quarterback are on the same page.
"A couple things are that realizing that on fourth down, sometimes punting the football is not a bad thing,” Hoke said.
“He's a guy who is very athletic, as I hope you all know. He's a guy who is tough. And I think the other part of it is he has to learn that he doesn't have to do it by himself."
Ah yes, help, something Gardner struggled to find from the rest of the team in his first full season as the starting quarterback at Michigan.
Regardless, Gardner isn’t putting it all on the rest of the offense nor admitting he doesn’t believe he can do it.
“I feel like sometimes I maybe held the ball too long or didn’t get the ball out but I don’t think shell shocked is the word,” Gardner said. “Everyone’s putting it all on the offensive line, which it wasn’t, sometimes it was the backs, sometimes the receivers didn’t get open in time or sometimes I held the ball a little too long.
“They get a lot of unjust criticism but that’s what’s going to happen and we’re just working hard to change that.”
The proof of possible improvement will of course come on the field on Aug. 30 as Michigan hosts Appalachian State to kickoff the 2014 season.
If one week of practice is any indication of how the offensive line, running back protection, and quarterbacking is going in that capacity then, the results could be better.
“I’ve been sacked once through camp, so,” Gardner added.