Tuesday, April 24, 2012
At Michigan’s 2012 spring game, the play on the field was largely vanilla—no deep passes were thrown—but it did provide the coaches with an opportunity to get their backup players some reps. If you missed the spring game, you can see it in its entirety here.
Most notably in the scrimmage came the play of quarterback Russell Bellomy, the 6’3” 185-pound redshirt freshman from Arlington, Texas. According to Michigan’s coaches, he is third behind Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner. However, based on Bellomy’s performance in the spring game, he could be a lot closer to the getting the backup job than Gardner is to keeping it. You can see all of Bellomy’s offensive snaps in the game here.
Bellomy was one of the late recruits to Michigan’s 2011 class, committing in the first weeks of Brady Hoke’s hiring. Offensive coordinator Al Borges said that Bellomy “was recruited by some teams that I have a lot of respect for recruiting quarterbacks.” (Borges is likely referring to Purdue, Boise State, and Michigan State, all of whom offered Bellomy scholarships and all of whom have developed outstanding quarterbacks. Bellomy was previously committed to Purdue before his Michigan offer.)
“When I first got here,” Borges told reporters back in February 2011, “there was no recruited quarterback, so we were trying to find a quarterback. After looking at [Bellomy], doing some quick research, a quick cram course on all the kids that were candidates for the scholarship, he checked out at every turn. I talked to several coaches who were recruiting him—maybe they had already signed a quarterback, but [they] were really, really high on him. I got great reports. That, but even more so, the research I did on my own—having a chance to watch tape and talk to his coach—I was sold on the kid.”
It’s amazing how Bellomy was only rated as a three-star quarterback coming out of high school when his highlight tape looks more like that of a five-star quarterback. (Seriously, it is more impressive than No. 1 2012 quarterback Gunner Kiel’s.) Bellomy has really good accuracy (then for a high school senior) and a really strong arm, and he’s not limited to the pocket. If you watch his tape, he has some decent wheels and can definitely be considered a dual-threat.
So, why the low rating? MGoBlog's Tim (the site's recruiting blogger at the time) seemed to think it was because of Bellomy’s long-standing commitment to Purdue before he switched to Michigan. Recruiting websites have little regard for the Boilermakers, whom they consider to be a mid-level Big Ten team, and they sometimes grade their recruits unfairly. Also, consider this: skilled quarterbacks in the state of Texas are a dime a dozen, and it’s possible Bellomy was overlooked because of the sheer quantity of quality Texas recruits. (This would also explain why for the past few years the No.1-rated quarterbacks have come from states that have significantly fewer blue-chips: Gunner Kiel from Indiana, and Max Browne from Washington. Talent tends to stick out in an area where it is uncommon.)
Nevertheless, I cannot say enough how much I like this guy. Bellomy’s phenomenal high school highlight reel aside, he was good enough to be the main quarterback on the scout team and kept the defense on their toes enough to prepare them for 2011’s toughest challenges.
Before Bellomy even had an offer from the Wolverines, he came off as a humble yet determined, team-oriented Michigan Man in the making. Bob Wager, Bellomy's high school football coach, described him as "an outstanding student," having "a 4.0 GPA academically and a 1100 plus on his SAT."
"He’s done a masterful job of maintaining the balance of being a student-athlete," Wager told Go Blue Wolverine, Michigan football's premier (but unofficial) recruiting site. "He’s a team captain, as voted by his teammates, which I think is one of the great honors you can have. I think he’s going to make the team better and the campus better the moment he steps on because of the type of person he is . . . In Russell’s words, Michigan was one of his absolute dream schools. I think certainly anytime you go up to that environment, even here in the great state of Texas, we recognize the fact that Michigan is one of the premier football traditions in all of college football and I’m sure that had a profound impact to have an opportunity to go up and visit Ann Arbor."
Brady Hoke and Al Borges got themselves a major steal with this one.
The 2012 spring game was a bit of a validation for anyone who saw Bellomy’s highlight reel and concluded he was the Real McCoy, a solid, competent game manager—which is always satisfying to throw back in the faces of the doubters. Of course, what naturally emerged from Bellomy’s performance was a discussion of what this means for backup quarterback Devin Gardner, who has continued to struggle not only in spring games but also in actual games. Gardner’s first snap in his 2010 spring game debut was a fumble, but it was largely written off because he was then a freshman. He is now a junior.
“If Gardner's been really good and Bellomy uninspiring but solid and mistake-light throughout the spring, only one of these traits came through on Saturday,” wrote MGoBlog’s Brian after the 2012 spring game. “In three consecutive spring games [Devin Gardner has] looked bad.”
This also came after the recent speculation and rumors that Devin Gardner might be switching his position to wide receiver, and that he might actually be doing really well there—which shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Gardner is a raw athlete who has always shown impressive speed as a scrambler and, at 6’4”, 205 lbs., he’d be the tallest wide receiver on Michigan’s roster.
In terms of Michigan’s coaches putting the best players on the field, and Gardner actually getting some more frequent playing time before he graduates, this is not a bad deal.
Last year I profiled Devin Gardner as a “Player to Watch in 2011” largely because I figured that his tall frame was better suited to a pro-style, pocket pass-focused offense than was Denard Robinson’s 6’0” frame. I also thought that, even with Gardner regulated to the backup position, he would still be eventually better suited to run the offense in the future. These thoughts are now shown to be somewhat shortsighted and were possibly obscured by the fact that Gardner was a five-star quarterback coming out of high school and the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback prospect of 2010.
Much like Fitzgerald Toussaint securing the feature running-back position, Denard Robinson has become the unanimously clear choice as Michigan's feature quarterback. I would be shocked if he lost the starting job to either Gardner or Bellomy. The battle between the two of them now seems to be for the backup job, and Bellomy has the advantage.
This isn’t a bad thing. For the first time since 2007, Michigan finally has depth at quarterback. With Warren De La Salle’s Shane Morris joining the roster in 2013 after Denard graduates, we can finally stop worrying about Michigan’s quarterback position. Even if Morris doesn’t nab the starting job as a true freshman and Gardner is moved to wide receiver for the remainder of his career, Bellomy will by then be capable enough to be the starter and manage the offense while Morris develops.
Brian Cook’s Hail to the Victors magazine wrote in 2011 that “a lack of recruiting stability was rare in Bo Schembechler’s era” at Michigan. The same was true of quarterback stability, even through the Lloyd Carr era.
For the first time in a long time, that stability has returned.