Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday that quarterback Devin Gardner isn't necessarily guaranteed the starting job this season.
Hoke said Gardner will be limited by a toe injury when spring practice starts later this month. Gardner started 12 games last season and threw for 2,960 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He missed the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which Michigan lost to Kansas State, 31-14.
Asked if Gardner would be the starter when he is healthy, Hoke answered, "I think that's an unknown. Again, we were 7-6. We've got a lot of young guys, we've got a lot of competition. Now does Devin have the most experience? Yes, there's no question."
Michigan's offense as a whole bogged down in the second half of the season, and coordinator Al Borges was fired. He was replaced by Doug Nussmeier, who had been Alabama's coordinator.
Gardner, who will be a fifth-year senior, was recruited by Rich Rodriguez, Hoke's predecessor. Rodriguez ran the spread, and Gardner seems more of a spread quarterback than he does a dropback passer. Borges ran a pro-style attack, and Nussmeier ran the same type of offense with the Crimson Tide.
Shane Morris was the backup last season as a true freshman, and he started the bowl game. He is a pro-style quarterback and is Gardner's main competition.
Hoke said Gardner no longer is wearing a protective boot and is "making progress" in his return from a turf toe.
If Gardner isn't 100 percent in the spring and it truly is an open competition, this becomes an interesting situation. Any missed practice time will hurt Gardner as Nussmeier installs his offense, potentially giving Morris an advantage.
Compounding the issue at quarterback is that Michigan's offensive line looks to be a mess. The Wolverines had two steady linemen this season, and both were senior tackles. The interior performed below expectations, and the only starting spot that looks secure on the line belongs to center Graham Glasgow.
Morris has some mobility but isn't a running threat like Gardner. If the line indeed struggles again, Gardner's legs might end up being Michigan's best offensive weapon. But can Nussmeier take advantage of Gardner's mobility in a way Borges never could (that is, of course, if Gardner is even the starter)?
Hoke is feeling some heat, no question. Michigan should bring in one of the Big Ten's three best recruiting classes, but there are questions at every position group except tight end on offense and at tackle and safety on defense.