Devin Gardner says the 15 pounds he's added will make him more durable when the season starts this fall. (David Guralnick / Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is 15 pounds heavier than last season and off crutches, and was full-go at the first spring practice.
Gardner surprised his teammates and coach Brady Hoke with his mobility during Tuesday’s first of two non-pad practices before the team gets time off for spring break, then resumes for the final 13 practices.
He did not play in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl because of a severe turf toe injury to his left foot suffered during the regular-season finale against Ohio State. Gardner was hurt with just less than nine minutes left in the third quarter. He finished the game, a 42-41 loss in which Michigan failed to make a decisive two-point conversion.
“Probably the worst pain of my life,” Gardner said. “It didn’t feel good at all. We didn’t get the win, but I was excited to be able to finish the game.
“I had to start walking on the side of your foot (in that game), so it felt like you didn’t have part of your foot. It felt really weird, and it hurt really bad.”
Gardner, who said the weight gain will help him handle the physical nature of the position, wouldn’t commit to saying the foot suffered a break.
“It was something like that,” he said, smiling. “It was hurt really bad, I can tell you that.”
He has a plate in the shoe to offer added protection to the foot during spring practice.
Hoke said he believed Gardner would be limited in practice. But, he said Gardner’s mobility Tuesday was impressive.
“I was more surprised as anybody,” Hoke said of seeing Gardner practice. “(His mobility) was awfully good — I think that’s where my surprise came from. He practiced the whole time. ... He looked great.”
He hopes Gardner can go live every day in practice, but how much contact he will take will be determined after spring break. They will see how his foot is feeling and holding up.
“The one thing I told him is to make sure he’s not trying too hard and going too fast with the recovery,” Hoke said.
Competition at quarterback is open with Gardner facing challenges from Shane Morris, who as a freshman got his first career start in the bowl loss to Kansas State. Russell Bellomy, the backup in 2012, has fully recovered from a torn knee ligament that held him out last season. Freshman Wilton Speight is an early enrollee and participating in spring drills.
Hoke said Gardner, Morris and Bellomy will take snaps this spring with the first team.
There’s the added significant wrinkle of having a new offensive coordinator, as well. Doug Nussmeier was hired last month from Alabama, where he also coached quarterbacks, as he now does at Michigan.
Gardner, under his third offensive coordinator, said he is learning new terminology and communicating well with Nussmeier. He described the coach as “electric” and demanding.
“He expects everything to be perfect,” Gardner said.
Gardner is not one to fear competition and said he is enjoying getting better because of Morris and Bellomy.
“They’re going to pick the best quarterback when it’s time,” Gardner said.
The first practice under Nussmeier was fast.
“Probably the fastest practice I’ve ever been part of,” Gardner said. “I feel like that’s going to help us. ... Sometimes we go hurry-up so we can get more reps in. I feel like right now there’s a lot of energy in practice, so I’m happy with the (coaching) decision.”
Nussmeier replaced Al Borges, who was fired last month.
As Gardner prepares for his final season, he enters the last push of his college career knowing that not only can he take a hit, but he can gut out the pain of an injury and continue to play as he did against Ohio State.
“It hurt so bad — I felt like I was a tough guy,” Gardner said when asked what the Ohio State game showed him. “My teammates saw that a lot. Coach Hoke just kept on saying (during the game), ‘Don’t show it.’ I did my best not to show I was hurt. That was the biggest thing for me.
“For me to play on that … you never know you can do something like that until you do it. ... Now I know about myself.”