Denard Robinson shines in Michigan spring game, stakes claim to quarterback job
It was one game, a spring game at that, and mostly against Michigan’s second-team defense, but Denard Robinson looks like a different quarterback.
Inconsistent as a passer and limited in the run game last year, Robinson capped an impressive spring with a head-turning scrimmage in front of an estimated 35,000 Michigan football fans Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
He started ahead of incumbent Tate Forcier, led Michigan to touchdowns on five of the six possessions he played, and was equally crisp running and throwing the football.
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said there was no significance to Robinson playing in front of Forcier, who started every game last year as a true freshman. But he acknowledged the more athletic Robinson had “a little bit more consistent” spring and is “about” where former West Virginia quarterback Pat White was after his second season in Rodriguez’s offense.
“They have a lot of the same qualities,” Rodriguez said. “Certainly guys that can run and throw, and they bring a certain dynamic and explosion to that position, so they do bring a lot of similarities. But Pat was really good.
“Pat may have been the best college quarterback in the country for a couple of years there and finished his career as one of the best ever, so tough to compare him to that. Our guys still got a ways to go to reach that level.”
Rodriguez said he still has a ways to go to determine a starter.
Robinson and Forcier will enter fall camp neck and neck, with true freshman Devin Gardner third on a young depth chart.
“I think Denard has certainly made some big leaps this spring,” Rodriguez said. “I think Tate’s gotten better even though he’s got some work to do, as does Denard. And Devin, for being here 15 practices, has really learned pretty well. I think they all have a little ways to go, but it’s a very, very competitive situation. I don’t know if it’ll be solved as far as who’s the No. 1 guy by the first game.”
Forcier spent most of Saturday working with the second-team offense against Michigan’s first-team defense. He led three scoring drives in six possessions, and lost one fumble. In his lone drive with the mostly first-team offense (against Michigan’s No. 2 defense), he managed just one first down and was lucky to avoid an interception.
Gardner, one of seven early enrollees, showed his nerves early. He fumbled his first snap from scrimmage and threw an interception on his second drive, but also showed some of the promise that made him the top dual-threat quarterback recruit in the nation.
Robinson threw a 97-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree, and led a touchdown drive and ran in the two-point conversion on his final series. His Blue team won, 49-37.
"He’s really been working on his technique," Roundtree said. "All the quarterbacks have, but Denard has really been working on his technique, his touch on the ball instead of throwing it so hard. And this year it shows so far what he did."
Rodriguez declined to make any of his quarterbacks available after the game - Gardner spoke briefly with reporters after the game before being ushered off the field by a Michigan official - and said the play under center was "uneven" as a whole.
“I thought we had practiced better at quarterback in some of the earlier practices,” he said. “I didn’t think today we were particularly sharp, but it’s just a spring practice so there’s a lot of teachable moments that we can take from here. But I didn’t think we were really as sharp quarterback-wise. Made a few plays, but they’ve played better and will play better.”
Overall, Rodriguez gave his team a passing grade for the spring.
Michigan found new contributors at safety (Cam Gordon), left tackle (Taylor Lewan) and running back (Fitzgerald Toussaint), though questions remain, especially on defense, after last year's 5-7 season.
“A few concerns, but every coach in America will tell you at the end of spring they have a few concerns,” he said. “I have a few, but I feel a lot more positive, generally, and (the) attitude and the chemistry of the team is really good right now, and I would hope that when we start back up in August it will continue down that path.
“Overall it was a really good spring.”
Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.