University of Michigan football team no closer to naming a starting quarterback
When the subject finally turned to something other than Michigan’s three-headed quarterback race 12 minutes into Sunday’s media day, Rich Rodriguez let loose a friendly chuckle.
“We’re going to involve the other guys, huh?” Rodriguez said. “Good. Eleven guys.”
Yes, 11 guys, but until Rodriguez names a starting quarterback - something he wasn’t close to doing Sunday - the focus remains on one position.
Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson and Nick Sheridan all remain in the mix to start Michigan’s Sept. 5 opener against Western Michigan. At the very least, Rodriguez said all three “look like they’re going to play” against the Broncos.
Sheridan, a junior who started four games a season ago, played the first series with the No. 1 offense in Michigan’s first fall scrimmage Saturday. He remains the least-likely long-term answer at the position because his skill set is mismatched for the spread offense.
Forcier and Robinson also took No. 1 snaps Saturday, replacing Sheridan with the first team in that order, but Rodriguez said neither true freshman has separated himself from the pack.
“That may be an ongoing battle,” Rodriguez said. “Until we play a game and see how they perform under game conditions, we won’t know for sure if anybody solidifies the starting role.”
Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said Forcier has a more thorough grasp of the offense than Robinson, partly because Forcier was on campus for spring practice. But Smith and others drool over Robinson’s game-changing speed, even comparing his play-making ability to that of former West Virginia quarterback Pat White.
“I don’t want to blow him up, but he’s fast,” Smith said. “He’s fast. It’s fun to watch because when he breaks through - and I love Pat to death, but I’m not so sure this kid - he’s fast. They’re close.”
In four seasons running Rodriguez's spread offense (including last year), White ran for nearly 4,500 yards. Twice, he topped 1,000 yards rushing - more than double what any Michigan running back gained last year.
According to practice reports on Michigan’s athletic department website, Robinson, who's nicknamed "Shoelace" because he doesn't tie his shoes when he plays, has turned in big gains with his feet nearly every day. Last week, he had touchdown runs of 58, 68 and 72 yards.
“It’s amazing some of the stuff he does,” Forcier said. “Like I said, he’s gifted. The speed he has, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
As slick as Robinson is with his feet, he remains raw as a passer. Forcier is more polished, and Smith left open the possibility that both quarterbacks could play throughout the year in packages tailored to their abilities.
"I knew the young guys would be very talented, and I knew they were all going to bring different stuff to the table, but at the same time I’m very happy with where they’re progressing so far," he said. "We’ve made more plays in practice than we made all last year during the fall, Does that carry over to Saturday? I hope so. So it’s a good sign. I’m hoping."
Neither Forcier nor Robinson spent time lobbying for the starting job Sunday. Robinson said he enjoys the suspense of not knowing who's No. 1, and Forcier said he won't be surprised no matter who wins the job.
That's good, because neither does Smith.
"I don’t know who’s going to start, I don’t know who it is, how many we’ll play, but we’re going to have at least three ready to go," Smith said. "That’s our philosophy, we want to have three ready to play. Not ready to play, but ready to win with.”
Dave Birkett covers the University of Michigan football team for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org