Debate it: Should Devin or Denard start?

If and when Denard Robinson returns from his right elbow injury, who should Michigan start at quarterback? Is it Robinson, or Devin Gardner, the replacement the past two games? The question may seem crazy, considering Robinson’s experience and ability to rack up big statistical days, but Gardner has impressed in two starts.

So, who should it be? BTN.com’s Tom Dienhart and Brent Yarina debate here, plus they post fan tweets on the topic.

Brent: Gardner should start. He better fits what Al Borges wants to do, and I think the Wolverines would be a more dynamic unit with him under center and Denard playing a 2011 Kain Colter-like role.

Tom: I like Gardner, too. But don’t forget: He has gotten off to his fast start in part because he has played against Minnesota and Northwestern. Let’s not commission a statue of the guy just yet. Denard is still my choice. He has been there and done it. Most vital: Denard has earned the right to finish what he has started this season–and for his career.

Our “#BTNLive” team discussed this issue on Wednesday’s show, as well:

Brent: You’re right, no one will mistake Minnesota or Northwestern’s defense for Michigan State’s. Still, Gardner’s impressed, totaling 588 yards and seven scores (four passing and three running). He’s the better passer, no doubt about it, and based on Denard’s track record against top defenses/teams, he can’t do much worse.

Tom: Yes, like you, I think Gardner is probably the better passer. But Denard is the better runner—by far. He has shown he can score any time he touches the ball. And with the way Fitz Toussaint seems to be coming on—18 carries for 92 yards last week—the Wolverine rushing game looks primed to go to another level, which will open passing lanes for Denard.

Devin Gardner

US Presswire

Brent:Denard is a better runner than Collin Klein, Geno Smith, you name the quarterback. That doesn’t mean he’s the better signal-caller. If Gardner struggled to move the ball or turned it over, there’s no question Denard’s the starter when healthy. Problem is, that isn’t the case.

Tom: I hear that. But I think Michigan is a better offense with both on the field together–Denard under center and Devin at receiver. You even could have Devin move to quarterback from time to time and line up Denard in the backfield or in the slot. To me, THAT’S a dangerous offense for opponents to have to deal with. Think of the possibilities. Neither of these guys should be a part-time player, as your plan suggests.

Brent: Denard wouldn’t be a part-time player. Line him up at running back, put him in the slot, whatever it takes to get him on the field. Imagine how successful Gardner would be, both as a passer and runner, if defenses had to account for Denard out of the backfield or as a pass-catcher every down. Now, imagine the headaches Borges and the offense would give defenses with said attack. Honestly, you don’t think Denard in an athlete role is more valuable than Gardner at receiver, where he’s averaged just two receptions per game?

Tom: Gardner hardly got a chance to develop at receiver, remember? Who knows where his skills would be now if he hadn’t had to move back to quarterback after Denard got hurt. Denard is a senior, he’s a leader, he’s a proven prime-time player, he has the respect of everyone. And those things matter, especially in the heat of battle in a close game vs. a good opponent in a big game. Devin hasn’t experienced any of that. Denard has. And he has succeeded at it, too. This is Denard’s team. This is Denard’s moment. Let him have it. He has earned it and deserves it.

Brent: This very well may be Denard’s team, and that’s fine. But if I’m Brady Hoke, I’m more interested in what’s best for my team, not Denard Robinson. When a team faces the decision Michigan expects to, it comes down to getting the most out of your game-changers. You best accomplish that by putting Gardner, the better passer of the two, under center, where he can throw and run, and Denard in space, where his skill set is better utilized.

Tom: Well, we refuse to agree here. I just think many people have fallen in love with Devin TOO quickly based on two games vs. non-elite defenses. Suddenly, Devin is John Elway because he posted good numbers vs. Minnesota’s and Northwestern’s defenses. THAT’S the sample size and THAT’S the body of work so many people are citing when drawing the grand conclusion that Devin is a better passer than Denard. Laughable. Look, if Devin is a better passer than Denard—and he may be—I don’t think the difference is huge. Having said that—and knowing Denard is a better runner, leader and more proven than Devin on EVERY level—the choice is simple: Denard starts. Period. End of story.

Brent: We definitely agree to disagree. And no one’s saying Gardner is John Elway. Compared to Denard, though, he makes every Michigan receiver better. That being the case, the team wouldn’t miss Gardner at receiver, where he was making minimal impact in Big Ten play anyway. Keep Gardner at quarterback and find creative ways to get Denard the ball in space, and the two combine to give Michigan a better throwing Denard. It’s the best of both worlds. Or Michigan can go your route, which yields a one-dimensional offense.

Here’s what BTN.com fans said about the topic on Twitter:

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Show Comments (8 Comments)
8 Post Your Comment
squeekeron on 11/15/2012 @ 5:54pm EDT Said:

As an Ohio State fan, I vote for Denard. We could use a few pic-six’s to help us win.

sbuel2 on 11/15/2012 @ 6:29pm EDT Said:

Robinson has had some off games this year and with the nerve issue with his elbow, I think Hoke considering him elsewhere where his running can be utilized without risk to his elbow. Gardner is a more rounded QB and has been doing well. I would stick with the current QB and work Robinson back in as a flanker or wide receiver. He was diving after a run and landed on his hand, football and elbow, the tackler didn’t hit him hard at all just rolled over the top of him. Robinson will probably not be playing QB as a pro so it might benefit him to try another position to protect his elbow.

Guiness on 11/16/2012 @ 9:09am EDT Said:

It should be Gardner. It should have been Gardner from the start of the season. Robinson should have been used the way Florida use to use Percy Harvin. I have yet to see Robinson have a good game against a good team. All his numbers come against low end teams. Had Gardner been the starter all year, Michigan would have had at least one and possibly two more wins

Doug on 11/16/2012 @ 10:18am EDT Said:

Gardner should start because as we saw the last two weeks, he can beat poor teams. I can’t wait to see how he does vs OSU, their defense has been getting better since the start of the season.

rensational (@rensational) on 11/16/2012 @ 11:09am EDT Said:

Please, geekeron. Denard beat OSU last season, one of his best college games performance-wise and no picks, and he can do it again. That’s why I say Denard over Devin.

Mike on 11/16/2012 @ 1:08pm EDT Said:

The running game is getting better because teams now have to contain Gardner throwing. Thats why Fitz is running better. Gardner at QB Denard at TB. No one in the country can prepare for that! So many options when Gardner opens up the passing game. GO Blue!!!

Matt on 11/16/2012 @ 2:43pm EDT Said:

I completely agree with Brent on this one. I do not think there is much of an argument to say that Denard’s passing skills are to the level of Devin’s. I do not care if the 2 teams he has faced were not elite defenses. The point is, he has thrown multiple deep balls in those 2 games and he has been pin point accurate on those throws. In 3 years of watching Denard lead this team, hardly ever have i described him as being a pin-point passer. Denard does need to be on the field though, no doubt about that. Put him in the slot, do some end-arounds with him or reverses, anything to get him in space. Borges’ offense does not call for a running quarterback, so Devin is the better option. It amazes me how much the coaching staff has opened up the playbook with passes for Devin, and they are doing it because they feel more comfortable with Devin throwing the ball. Brent wins this argument.

Michiganfootball on 11/17/2012 @ 12:18am EDT Said:

Been saying for more than a season that Garner at quarterback is what Michigan needs- an excellent passer! Robinson is athletic though….let him play…somewhere on the outside. I’m sure Robinson can get open and I’m sure Gardner can put the football right on his number!!!!! GO BLUE!!

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