Here comes the carousel: Michigan begins fall practice trying to figure out who's the starting quarterback
Tate Forcier jogged to the sideline, momentarily perturbed.
This, though, had nothing to do with the freshman quarterback’s play on the field. Instead, it was all about a slight helmet malfunction. So he jogged to the trainer, got it fixed and then resumed competing for the starting quarterback position at Michigan - a race that began in earnest Monday with the beginning of fall practice.
“Tate is further ahead mentally, which he should be because he was here all spring,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “But Denard (Robinson) went in there and made some nice plays. He’s a quick learner and very conscientious.”
There are signs that Forcier could be emerging as a leader. On the first day, when working on option draw drills, Forcier worked with last year’s part-time starter, Nick Sheridan. Robinson spent his time with perennial backup David Cone.
Much of that, by anyone at this point, might be reading too much into tea leaves. Rodriguez insists he doesn’t know who is quarterback will be and plans on alternating Forcier, Sheridan and Robinson throughout the next few weeks. And he seems at least curious with the speed of Robinson, who appeared to clearly be the fastest quarterback - if not player overall - on the field the first day of practice. A state-level sprinter, Robinson finished third in the Florida 4A state track finals and according to the Michigan media guide, runs a 4.32 second 40-yard dash.
“He’s fast fast,” Rodriguez said. “But I think we have some other guys that can run with him, too.
“As a quarterback, he’s a different level of speed than what normal quarterbacks would have.”
That speed is what makes him at least an intriguing option for Rodriguez, who never really had that during last year’s 3-9 season. And his spread offense has often been most successful with a quarterback that has above-average speed like Shaun King at Tulane, Woody Dantzler at Clemson and both Rasheed Marshall and Pat White and West Virginia.
While the extremely generously listed 6-foot Robinson might have the better overall speed, Forcier might be the more complete quarterback. Judging off of one practice day, Forcier appeared to have the much stronger arm and more ability to hit receivers in stride.
He didn’t exactly look slow running either, although everyone else did compared to Robinson.
“I’m wowed by all of their speeds because I’m not that quick myself,” fifth-year senior offensive lineman David Moosman said. “Tate seems like a little more shifty guy. Denard’s got the straight downhill.
“Either one of them is going to make big plays this year.”
That’s part of why there’s at least a hint of a competition going on this fall. Plus, Rodriguez said he’s not opposed to playing multiple quarterbacks. He did it last year - more out of necessity than anything else - but in spread systems multiple quarterback options have proven to be effective.
It even won a national championship at Florida in 2006. That two of the three major candidates are true freshmen makes it even more intriguing.
“Quarterback is the hardest position (to learn),” Rodriguez said. “Ideally, a coach may tell ya that I want a guy to separate and be so good that he’s a clear starter and somebody else is good enough to win with, he’s the backup.
“I don’t know if that’s going to happen before September 5, but I don’t have to make the decision till then. And it may be after. We don’t have to figure out who is the guy, if there’s going to be the guy, until some point during the season.”
And so it begins. And so everyone waits.
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for annarbor.com. He can be reached at (734) 623-2558 or by e-mail at email@example.com.