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Posted on Sat, Apr 16, 2011 : 3:28 p.m.

Highlight plays lacking as Denard Robinson works in new pro-style offense

By Rich Rezler


Denard Robinson looks for a receiver during Saturday's spring game. The junior-to-be completed 5 of 14 passes for 68 yards.

Angela J. Cesere |

Denard Robinson took the shotgun snap, headed left, cut back to the right around midfield and bulleted past defenders in white jerseys.

The first play of the 2011 Michigan football spring game was a flashback to last season, when Robinson fascinated the college football world and became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 yards in a single season.

But after that 55-yard run brought the roughly 25,000 fans at Michigan Stadium to their feet, the next 24 offensive snaps that the junior-to-be took looked nothing like that.

Robinson completed 5 of 14 passes for 68 yards and gained one more rushing yard on five carries.

At least two passes were dropped, but more were overthrown. He also had one badly overthrown interception negated by a penalty.

“I think I did all right,” he said after the game. “I think I had a couple mistakes and some things I have to work on, but for the most part I think I did all right.”

Robinson’s drives ended in two missed field goals, two punts and a turnover on downs. The only points his team scored in a 14-7 loss came when redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Ryan returned a Devin Gardner interception for a touchdown.

Afterward, Robinson nor his coaches were overly concerned with the performance. It was just the spring game, after all. A glorified practice.

But remember it was just 364 days ago that fans filed out of Michigan Stadium buzzing about his performance. It began Robinson’s ascension from a run-only sideshow to the Big Ten Player of the Year and early-season Heisman Trophy contender.


He turned heads in the 2010 spring game, leading the offense to touchdowns on five of the six possessions he played while showing off much-improved passing skills to go with his electric running ability after a year of learning Rich Rodriguez’s spread-option attack.

That was the day it became clear that Robinson was on his way to taking the reins from incumbent Tate Forcier, who had started every game their freshmen seasons.

On Saturday, it became clear that there’s a lot of learning left before Robinson feels completely comfortable in offensive coordinator Al Borges’ pro-style offense.

He says the footwork required of the drop-back passing game is what he’s most focused on improving, and he’s still working on changing his mentality from run-first to pass-first.

Borges said after that first play, a designed quarterback run, his play-calling focused more on the new aspects of the offense - and it’s not necessarily the the plays fans will see when Western Michigan comes to Michigan Stadium for the Sept. 3 season opener.

Borges said “in the real world, he’ll probably run more than you saw today.” Essentially, he said, why practice what you know already works?

“I wanted to kind of get him in the flow a little bit, so we called a quarterback run the first play and you see what he can do. That’s no secret. Everybody knows he can do that,” Borges said.

“We can facilitate that within our offense, we have to try to develop the other phases of our offense that are going to make us a better football team. One of them is power running and there was an emphasis on that today.”

Robinson said he was OK with the play-calling focusing on area's of improvement rather than highlighting his abilities.

"I like when (Borges) does stuff like that," he said. "He put a little challenge on me, make me want to play better and make me want to do better. That’s the biggest thing."

Quarterbacks also were off-limits to defenders Saturday. Robinson was “sacked” twice when surrounded by defenders, scenarios he’s proven he can escape.

“Sometimes I was like, ‘C’mon, let’s play live,’” he said. “But they do it for the safety of the quarterback.”

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison agreed there was probably a quick whistle or two that benefited his unit.

“I would not want to bet on us getting him down on a lot of those times,” Mattison said. “He’s a special football player. As a defensive coordinator, what do you call in a passing situation? If you pressure him and you don’t get him down right there, you’re asking for a really big one.

“I’m glad we don’t play against him let’s just say that.”

Rich Rezler covers sports for Contact him at or 734-623-2553.


Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

A measure of how far off the reservation the MCC has gone is that fact that Tater (TATER, for goodness sakes) is making more sense than the rest of them. Good Night and Good Luck


Mon, Apr 18, 2011 : 12:15 p.m.

We don't really have any tough games this year. I see us being undefeated when tatoo u rolls into town (in tricked out Cadillacs). For certain, The King would have plowed through this year's schedule. Might be a little different wearing leather helmets, though. Go Blue. CoB!

Tim Belcher

Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 1:56 p.m.

Hard to get a good read from the spring game. Lewan out didn't help the O line. I think our front seven on D will be much improved and that will ultimately help the O. No matter what offensive scheme you play, it is important to be able to run the ball between the tackles as well as get to the edge. Cox looked good running the ball and from my perspective we have the talent, the coaches and the mind-set to be a very good football team. I suspect we don't go real deep with that upper echelon talent so injuries will be a key. Go Blue!


Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 5:29 a.m.

rich rodriguez was a better offensive coordinater than al borges

Blu n Tpa

Mon, Apr 18, 2011 : 1:45 a.m.

57 and tbf Maybe, but he wasn't hired to coach the offense, he was suppose to COACH the WHOLE team. It's called the HEAD COACH for a reason. It's the reason he's GONE. That goes without saying. Laugh out Loud.


Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 5:40 a.m.

That goes without saying.


Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 5:02 a.m.

My first thought as I watched the spring game today was "oh God, they've castrated Denard!" After lining up in essentially a spread formation and ripping off the long run, he pretty much disappeared. But reading this and hearing what Borges said about working on things he's not good at and not what he's already good at, I feel much better.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8:25 p.m.

And you do remember that Forcier enrolled in January, giving him the entire spring/summer to learn the offense, don't you? Couldn't be an advantage, despite eventual outcome, over a kid who had about a month to learn the offense, hm? Nah. Forcier must have started last year because RR is stupid, just like everything else that happened.


Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 8:22 p.m.

Yes, "my first thought." With respect to significance, not chronological order. I'm sure you understand.

Blu n Tpa

Mon, Apr 18, 2011 : 1:09 p.m.

tbf So the WCiMFH went after DRob right away? DRob was his first or second choice for QB in that recruiting class? And he was so happy with him, DRob started as a freshman over the other freshman QB? So we didn't see TForce out there most of their freshmen season, it was DRob. And the WCiMFH had it all planned out from the start because he was rock solid sure of DRob's skill set. That's how you remember it? And, since the defense was so well coached last year, you think the new defensive coaches have nothing to do with people knowing Ryan and Johnson's names today after the spring practice game? OK, if you say so.


Mon, Apr 18, 2011 : 5:09 a.m.

Yes, RR told DRob that he could play QB at Michigan. Almost every other school recruited him for a different position. RR believed he could be a difference maker at QB. Carvin Johnson came out of Louisiana, and wasn't even on LSU's radar. He came out of the south where most of the top football talent in the country hails from. RR recruited the south religiously. Jake Ryan is from Ohio and never even got a look from OSU. RR and staff knew the kid was a player. Exhibit: the spring game. Shall I continue? Man, the HMLC is persistent.

Blu n Tpa

Mon, Apr 18, 2011 : 1:42 a.m.

tbf You know the story of how DRob got to Michigan? Or not?


Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 5:28 p.m.

Blu n Tpa -- "luck". LOL, whatever.

Blu n Tpa

Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 12:49 p.m.

"My first thought..." Really?

Blu n Tpa

Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

Me too. I'm glad Michigan has coaches that understand it's not about appearances, it about getting better. DRob can run, maybe you have seen that before. (It was in all the papers, websites, and cable TV.) Maybe, and I'm just spitballing here, coaches are suppose to teach players NEW skills, and make them better. That and work with the whole team. As far as Ryan and Johnson are concerned, I think "he" found them the same way he "found" DRob. Luck!


Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 3:04 a.m.

How about Jake Ryan and Carvin Johnson? RR found two gems in the rough. I have a feeling those two will be making big impacts for Michigan's defense in the coming years.


Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 2:13 a.m.

coach hoke and borges, please don't throw the spread out with the bath water. . . GO BLUE. . .


Sat, Apr 16, 2011 : 11:08 p.m.

This is about what I expected. The offense did not look good and Denard is a bit lost. His footwork on dropbacks was bad, and his throwing was way off. He clearly is not comfortable. If you look at Brady Hoke's track record you should expect us to struggle this fall. Plain and simple. It's gonna take time.

Macabre Sunset

Sat, Apr 16, 2011 : 11:03 p.m.

What I'm hoping, and nothing Hoke has said makes me believe he doesn't see it this way as well, is that the playbook will reflect the skills of his players. Robinson is an exceptional runner, but his passing skills aren't quite there yet. Hoke understands that to have a passing attack, opponents need to be quite worried about the run. There was a lot to like about the defense today, particularly up front.


Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

This was the first thought that entered my mind after reading Dusty's comment. Go to about 6:20 or so. I see others thought the same thing. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> @Dusty, I've disagreed with some of your opinions regarding M football in the past and still tend to, but this isn't meant to blast what you said. I agree with what you said, and just thought I'd share with everyone this highlight reel showcasing Griese's father-evading speed/agility.

Blu n Tpa

Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

1bit. That was a great line. That was the game Dayrion Taylor hit the PS tight end so hard near the sideline that neither played another down of football. Know what Coach Carr did with DTaylor? Let him stay with the team as a student assistant. That why you don't stand in a room of Coach Carr's former players and say out loud that he was washed up or old fashion. At least not without your track shoes on. TiM Go Blue!


Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 11:32 a.m.

True - though he did get off that big run against Penn State. I remember Keith Jackson calling the game and saying how Griese hadn't run that fast since his dad was chasing him with a stick.


Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 5:04 a.m.

Except Griese wasn't going to rattle off 40 yards if the receiver wasn't open.


Sun, Apr 17, 2011 : 2:40 a.m.

Agreed. I think one of the best plays I saw was the playaction/misdirection with Denard going left then going back to his right. Roh (or was it Martin) was in his face but Denard made the throw for the first down and if the receiver wasn't open you knew Denard could run it anyway. Those kind of plays would be very difficult to defend and was similar to the play Brian Griese would always run back in the Nat'l Championship run.


Sat, Apr 16, 2011 : 9:59 p.m.

How do I feel? Pretty good about the D. Not so good about the O. Our offensive line does not block well for runs between the tackles. We are a zone blocking team and have recruited as such since 2006. Let's stick with that and mix in pro style as a change of pace. Denard and Devin both have a ton of work to do and I really don't think the pro style offense will &quot;get there&quot; by September. The defense might steal us a game or two against middle tier B10 teams and lower. But we're not going to scare anyone in the top of the B10 with only a decent defense and a pro style offense.


Sat, Apr 16, 2011 : 9:32 p.m.

Denard has a lot to work on over the summer. So does Devin. Since neither are as overmatched as Threet and Sheridan were in 2008, there is no reason to panic. This team will lose to ND, but should be playing well enough by October to beat MSU. If the NCAA does the right thing and declares the tat5 permanently ineligible, Michigan should get a victory over TSIO, too. I'm guessing they are 7-4 going into the TSIO game, so they go 8-4 with a tossup in the bowl game. That will be enough to keep everyone optimistic for 2012. And that will be when we see what Denard can really do in this offense.