'Gamer' Gardner has no doubts he'll be NFL success

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Devin Gardner: “I don’t worry about stuff I can’t control.”

Ann Arbor – Devin Gardner has always been a big believer in Devin Gardner, even when others doubted him during his Michigan career.

Now, as he embarks on his goal of playing in the NFL, he is relying on that self-belief as he transitions to receiver, a position he played during the 2012 season. He was Michigan's full-time starting quarterback in 2013 and 2014, and started most of the second half of 2012 when Denard Robinson was injured.

Gardner, joined by former Michigan receiver Devin Funchess, signed autographs Saturday during a two-hour session at the M Den on State Street. As always, he was engaging with fans, posing for pictures and signing anything that came his way.

Both are training locally in preparation for the upcoming NFL draft. Gardner has been working out at Michigan with former U-M receivers coach Erik Campbell, who recently joined Jim Harbaugh's staff in a non-coaching role.

Even after enjoying solid reviews for his play during the East-West Shrine Game, Gardner was not invited to the NFL Combine

"I don't care about that stuff," Gardner said of the combine snub. "I don't worry about stuff I can't control."

He participated in the recent Michigan pro day and he ran a 4.62 40-yard dash, had a vertical of 35 ½ inches and bench pressed 225 pounds 15 times. He said he did not throw at pro day, though, and worked only at receiver.

Gardner met with the Falcons and Bengals last week and plans to meet with the Patriots and Chiefs next week. He said he spoke to representatives from every NFL team during the East-West week, and he said three or four even talked to him about playing quarterback.

"My dream is to play football in the NFL, so that's what I'm going to do," Gardner said. "Whichever team wants me to play quarterback, I'll play quarterback. If you want me to be a scout team quarterback and be a receiver on the team, I'll do that. I'm pretty sure it's openly known that I'll do whatever it takes to help the team, and now I'll get paid to help the team, as well."

Funchess believes Gardner will have no issue making a complete transition to receiver. He watched Gardner during pro day and was impressed.

"He's smooth. He's a good athlete," Funchess said. "He used to play basketball back at Inkster, he set all those records. He used to go off -- I used to watch him. If you can play basketball you can pretty much doing anything on the football field."

Gardner has a decent amount of film from the 2012 season when he played receiver, and he can't help being a bit taken aback that some might doubt his ability to transition from quarterback to receiver.

"He's a ball player," Funchess said, chiming in while signing autographs.

"I'm a gamer," Gardner responded, later adding he enjoys the mind-game aspect of blocking defensive backs. "I go get it. My first-ever catch was a touchdown, so, just sayin."

During the 2012 season, Gardner had 16 catches for 266 yards and four touchdowns, including a 44-yard catch, his first reception, for a score in the opener against Alabama. Having played receiver, Gardner said he felt confident going to the East West game.

"I don't think (NFL scouts) expected me to do as well as I did at the Shrine game, but I expected myself to do well," he said. "I know how to get open because I know where to be. I catch the ball. The ball is the issue.

"I'm a competitor, I'm good at playing football. The first day I ever played receiver in college, I won my first, second, third one-on-one. Playing football is playing football every day of the week, if you ask me. The East-West game, the first one-on-one, I go deep and score. It's not like something that was a surprise for me."

He said his strengths are evident.

"You can see them – I'm tall (6-4), I'm fast enough, I know how to get open," he said. "I'm pretty smart, I like to think, and I can catch, which is the most important part."

Scouts have asked about his Michigan experience, which was mostly challenging. He took a physical beating behind a struggling offensive line in 2013, and last season he had 15 interceptions against 10 touchdowns.

If he proved one thing during his quarterbacking career it's that he can take a hit.

"If (toughness is) an issue, they must have not watched me play," Gardner said. "I'm the toughest person I know. Without question. There are other tough guys, (but) obviously, I'm biased."

But tough guys have to take care of themselves. One piece of advice from receivers Gardner has heeded? Taking care of his feet. And that means getting pedicures.

"No nail polish, though," he said, laughing.