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Michigan sideline: Gardner feeling healthy; who’s the featured back?

[ 0 ] November 20, 2013 |

By Shawn Windsor

Detroit Free Press

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner didn’t wear a knee brace Saturday when U-M beat Northwestern in triple overtime. He felt healthy enough to run without it.

That decision helped Gardner move as freely as he has in weeks.

“Felt like my knee was pretty healed up,” Gardner said Wednesday. “Offensive linemen wear knee braces. They are restricting. I felt like I ran past people and got some big first downs with my legs. So that was encouraging.”

Gardner passed for 226 yards and rushed for 19 yards (including a long of 22 yards) on 17 attempts against the Wildcats.

Part of what made Gardner so effective early was his ability to take off from the pocket. A sore knee and resulting knee brace hinder that ability. While Gardner didn’t look quite as fast against Northwestern as he did at the start of the season, he said he feels as healthy now as he has since then.

No play illustrated his improved health more than a fourth-and-4 in the final drive of regulation Saturday. Gardner dropped back, didn’t see an open receiver, took off to his right, pump faked to juke a defender, faked another and glided past the first-down marker to extend the drive.

Gardner said until that game he had been relying on his “competitive juice” to play through the pain. He also said his arm, which went numb briefly Saturday, felt fine.

MICHIGAN RUNNING BACKS: Brady Hoke wasn’t ready Wednesday to say who will be his featured running back when Michigan plays at Iowa on Saturday. The Wolverines football coach said he wanted to get through the rest of practice this week before he makes a decision.

During his midweek news conference, Hoke said Fitz Toussaint, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith all have roles to play, but he wouldn’t go into details as to what those responsibilities will be.

At least part of what each does, he said, depends on what is happening in the game at any particular moment. If down and distance demand a pass, he said: “Some of (the backs) may be better (than others).”

Toussaint didn’t play Saturday at Northwestern after suffering a concussion in practice. That opened the door for Green and Smith. The freshmen took advantage.

Green ran for 79 yards on 19 carries while Smith ran for 41 yards on eight carries — Smith averaged more than 5 yards per carry, Green averaged more than 4.

The combined effort helped U-M snap its two-game losing skid and showed that a solid running game might still be possible this season. Green, especially, hit the holes with authority and revealed a burst he didn’t have earlier in the year.

Hoke said part of the credit goes to weight loss. Green arrived at fall camp near 240 pounds. He is now 230.

When asked whether he noticed a difference, Hoke said, “I think so … the speed in and out of holes, the acceleration.”

Hoke said all three backs are getting their share of opportunities in practice this week. The carries are roughly divided into thirds.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “you’ve got to have somebody show up.”

WOLVERINES NOTEBOOK: Hoke said he is moving running back Justice Hayes to wide receiver. The sophomore from Flint played some at receiver and with the logjam in the backfield the coaches figure he could be more helpful in the slot.

Hoke said that Justice was savvy enough to play at running back and receiver if the team needed him. He caught one pass for 4 yards against Northwestern.

“He has been in the program long enough, he knows the protections even though we’ve moved him out to the Z receiver slot a little bit,” Hoke said. “Because of his maturity and being around it, he can do both. That’s where we’d like to get him trained most of the time.” …

Senior tackle Taylor Lewan didn’t make the list of Outland Trophy finalists. Hoke, who said he thought Taylor was playing better this season than last, wasn’t happy.

“Am I disappointed?” he said, “Yeah, really disappointed, no doubt.”



Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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