Top players to watch this spring: No. 1

We’re taking a look at different players, position groups and parts of the team to keep an eye on as the Wolverines begin spring practice on Feb. 25. Today, the countdown ends with No. 1. But fear not, we’ll continue the countdowns next week when we examine position battles.

No. 1: QB Shane Morris

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 201 pounds

2013 statistics: played in five games (one start), 29-of-47 passing, two interceptions, 261 yards, zero touchdowns.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said earlier this month that the starting quarterback for next season is an “unknown." Obviously, there are plenty of reasons for that to be true. The team went a mediocre 7-6, and Devin Gardner’s performances hit highs and sunk to low lows. And Morris played well during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State.

The quarterback question could also be a bit of coach speak, as Michigan likes to say that every position is always up for grabs.

However, with Gardner sitting out for at least some of the spring season while healing and rehabbing his foot, the door is open enough for Morris to make some statements and gain some ground. He’ll be working with the first-string offense, which will help him to gain chemistry with new receivers, and he'll be behind an offensive line that should show some growth.

If he’s able to really dig into Doug Nussmeier’s playbook, find his receivers and get better touch on his passes, he could really make this a competition for fall camp. But that would be highly dependent on how this spring goes. If he struggles, he puts himself further back and opens the door for Russell Bellomy or Wilton Speight to battle Gardner for the starting spot or fight for that backup position.

This spring is going to be crucial to the development of Morris as a quarterback. Down the road, the coaches will look at Morris as a possible face for the program. He handled the attention and spotlight well during bowl practice, but this will be another test. And any time a QB can run reps with the first-string players, it should be an opportunity to improve his skills. Morris has to remember that this spring.

The countdown: