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Posted on Wed, Aug 10, 2011 : 10:32 p.m.

Keep Denard Robinson 'in one piece,' and the Michigan offense is in great shape, Al Borges says

By Kyle Meinke

Al Borges held his first news conference of fall camp Wednesday, and he said exactly what he’s been saying since he became Michigan’s offensive coordinator in January.

Junior quarterback Denard Robinson is an explosive runner, and he will run this year, despite the fact Michigan is implementing a pro-style offense and scrapping the spread-option attack he was recruited to operate.

He’ll just run less. There’s a reason for that.


Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges on quarterback Denard Robinson: "We're trying to take some of the burden off him as a runner."

Melanie Maxwell |

“(The offense is) different in that he’s going to be under center some, but it’s the same in that he’s going to be in shotgun some,” Borges said. “He’s still going to be running the football. A lot of stuff you’re going to see and (say), ‘Oh, I’ve seen that before.’

“As a play caller, you go into games with a plan. But then all of the sudden things change and they can’t stop him. Now, I was born at night, but I wasn’t born last night. Call his number, give him a chance, but (we'll) try not to (get him) beat up.”

Robinson rushed for 1,702 yards last year, an NCAA record for a quarterback, and finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting. The problem, though, was it took him 256 carries to do it.

That’s an average of 19.7 carries per game, a workload typically reserved for a featured back. It took its toll on the 6-foot, 195-pound Robinson, who left several games with injury last year.

He averaged 7.8 yards per carry in his first eight games, but just 4.4 in the final five.

“The one thing that jumped out to me as I studied tape from last year is they were a different team when he wasn’t in there,” Borges said.

Robinson’s ability to stay on the field is accentuated by the transfer of last year’s primary backup, Tate Forcier, who now is at San Jose State. Sophomore Devin Gardner has an impressive skill-set, but little game experience.

Borges said Robinson is “on schedule” in picking up the new offense. His two biggest objectives for fall camp are developing timing with his receivers, who are running new routes, and improving his footwork.

“Because we’re trying to get to more of a power-offense style,” Borges said, “we’re trying to take some of the burden off him as a runner and, more than anything, try to keep him in one piece.”

Borges declined to say how much he planned to run Robinson, saying it would depend both on game context and how opponents defend the quarterback. Regardless, though, Robinson won't come close to matching his 256 rushes of last year.

That’s where the addition of a lead tailback enters the fold.

Borges and head coach Brady Hoke have said they’re eschewing the running back-by-committee approach of the past three years, and holding tryouts this fall to find a back who will carry the ball 20 times per game.

Senior Michael Shaw, sophomore Stephen Hopkins and true freshman Thomas Rawls appear to be the three most logical choices to win the job because of their size (big) and style (physical).

Junior Vincent Smith also could vie for the position, and was seen alternating with Shaw on the first offense at Tuesday’s practice, although his small, shifty frame may make him better suited as a complementary back.

Borges said the criteria being used for the tailback competition is the ability to win in the open field, break tackles, make people miss, understand pass protection and make catches.

Hoke said last month he was a little “a little concerned” none of the backs separated themselves in the spring. Nothing has changed in fall camp, although Borges said it’s difficult for separation to occur now because the team has not yet practiced with pads.

That won’t happen until Friday. Then, the competition should ratchet up a notch.

“We won’t have a go-to guy until we start tackling,” Borges said. “The kids have worked hard, they’re in good shape, but until you tackle them, put them in some live situations to see if they can make some opportunities and make some people miss, (you can’t determine much).”

Borges said he hopes to soon pare the tailback competition to a couple of guys because it’s too difficult to get five backs consistent carries. That probably will happen after just a couple of padded practices.

When does Borges hope to name his lead back?

“Yesterday, if we could,” he said. “You want a decision ASAP, but you don’t want to make a wrong decision. You want to make a right decision, and if it takes a little longer, then so be it.”

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Fri, Aug 26, 2011 : 10:07 p.m.

Lesson for the Now-Departed State Street gang: Setting up the offense in the "Denard is Gonna Run Again" formation 20 times per game was not a wise strategy. Unless of course you're wanting to help the other team's defense. Duh! ;-) I agree with most others: I think we're going to be bug-eyed with attention for 60 minutes of every game this year. In no way is this kind of variety and unpredictability going to hurt Michigan.

Blu n Tpa

Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 11:10 a.m.

First I think "snark" is "opinion with a bite to it", which is allowed. I have found the dicusssions lately relatitively free of out-of-date discourse about personas non grata at Michigan. I understand that sometime you have to put your thoughts in a historical reference because it's there, just months ago but let's continue to distant ourselves from that failed era and get behind what promises to be bright future. TiM Go Blue!


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 2:12 a.m.

Yes, keeping Denard healthy is a key to winning, and so is keeping the ball for more than 30 seconds of game clock during each possession. I feel confident the team will maintain ball control this year. Last year it did the team absolutely no good to either score quickly or more often lose the ball quickly, thus providing the other teams more opportunities to score.


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 11:22 p.m.

Borges is planning to reduce Denard's carries, which is fine as long as the RB's are effective. But remember that all it takes is one hit for an injury to occur. And as we saw last year, despite Rich Rod's teaching, Denard rarely chose to slide or run out of bounds. That's the competitor in Denard and I don't know if that will change just because a different coach is in charge. Gardner needs to be ready or else this could be a long season on offense.


Sat, Aug 13, 2011 : 1:57 a.m.

ERMG -- why does everything need to come with a link? I know it to be true because I distinctly recall RR saying it, several times actually. I know that you have washed the past three years from your memory so I guess it comes as no surprise that you require a link. I hope my point got across to you amongst this off-topic rant. Denard would rather take on a tackler than run out of bounds. As such, he can get injured on just about any running play. Sure, reducing the number of running plays reduces his chances for injury. But all it takes is one hit.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 3:04 a.m.

tbf: Much as you wish it were so, I didn't say what the WCiMFH did or did not do, nor did I say what I thought he did or did not do. I merely asked for your source. Your answer? Undefined "pressers" telling us what the WCiMFH said he did. Don't want to read snark about the man who was, by virtually any measure one can concoct, the WCiMFH? Then quit posting about him. And it was YOU who brought him up in regard to an article that had absolutely nothing to do with the WCiMFH. One has to wonder why his slappies feel the congenital need to continually bring him up. Good Night and Good Luck


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 2:55 a.m.

ERMG -- my statement about bringing RR into discussions, for the record -- every time something positive about Hoke is written, it needs to come with a snark against RR.


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 2:49 a.m.

mission -- how is my statement in any way apologetic or in defense of Rich Rod? My point is Denard is a competitor and given the choice of taking on a tackler or sliding/ducking out of bounds, he is going to choose the former 8 times out of 10. We'll see how it plays out this year but I have a feeling that I'm going to be correct.


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 2:42 a.m.

ERMG -- Of course, I don't know if he actually told Denard to do it but RR stated it several times in pressers. So, my evidence certainly outweighs your belief that RR never told him to do so.


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 1:09 a.m.

Even when no one says anything, tbf still feels the need to apologize for or defend the old HC. Everyone else seems to have moved on. Hopefully.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 12:53 a.m.

"And as we saw last year, despite Rich Rod's teaching, Denard rarely chose to slide or run out of bounds" Any evidence that the WCiMFH taught him to do otherwise? BTW, aren't you the one who complains about those who bring the WCiMFH into every discussion? Thought so. Good Night and Good Luck


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 12:45 a.m.

Luke ... Luke ... trust in Borges ... the man knows what he's doing.

Wally the Wolverine

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 8:30 p.m.

Conceivably, fewer carries can make Denard even more electrifying than before. What's the saying - less is more?

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 7:01 p.m.

Coach Borges said: "Call his number, give him a chance, but (we'll) try not to (get him) beat up." What a unique concept! Let's not run Denard so often that he gets broken in two! Glad to see that we now have a coaching staff that understands that keeping Denard healthy is important to the team's prospects. Good Night and Good Luck


Fri, Aug 26, 2011 : 10:09 p.m.

Couldn't agree more, Ghost. It's clear that "unique" offense mandated by "previous persons with the title coach" was just uniquely disastrous.


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 5:48 p.m.

This one guy I know at the tatoo parlor on state street has a great idea for choosing a featured running back. We could have a rap off!! ham n egger wants your vote shout his praises from your throat you'll eat steak instead of stew a 5 a 4 a 3 a 2!!! MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEANchigan football will return from the slime!!! If ya'll don't believe this, It's Lorraine kissing time!!!


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 5:38 p.m.

"who left several games with injury last year." Someone on this site showed in one of their comments a few months ago that DRob was hurt and missed some snaps in all but 1 of the games last year. Let's hope that improves alot. It would be great to see a healthy DRob all season long.


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 4:01 p.m.

This is a bizzare situation for young DR. On one hand Denard's speed means everything and on the other hand Denard's speed could be a detrament to his staying healthy. Denard has a mind set to use his speed and take off for instance if the pocket collapses and that mentality has gotten Denard hurt on several occasions so my point is, Denard needs to slow the game down to instatute the pro style and on the other hand his track star speed is what makes Denard so dangerous. Yes, it will be extremely interesting to see how the coaches manipulate his spread speed mentality with his takeoff rocket mentality when he gets a rush by a good defense which I suspect will happen often in this first year under this new system, I Can't wait for the season to begin under this new coaching staff. The best of luck to to Denard.


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 12:44 a.m.

trueblue -- good point. I'll add three more: (1) Denard Robinson is not (yet) Pat White in terms of maturity. (2) The WVU team had a decent DC and therefore a decent defense, and that accounted for a good portion of WVU's success. Put WVU's defense at 110th and that team would have been 5-7 or 6-6. I doubt RR even knew he had a DC ... I think that part of the WVU team simply managed itself. (3) Who's fault is it that no RB emerged? Perhaps the same mentality that allowed a 5-star DT in Will Campbell to languish ... overweight and unmotivated? I am, as you can tell, no fan of the prior coaching regime.


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 12:19 a.m.

"can you imagine if there's a credible feature running back threat and Robinson gets good at the fake handoff coming out from under center? Can you imagine the defense biting on that running back with the ball, leaving Robinson holding the ball ... with (hopefully) patience to look for receivers and knowledge of when to take off and use that blazing speed?" You are describing Rich Rod's WVU teams with White and Slaton. Those teams were deadly on the read option. Unfortunately it never materialized here under Rich because no RB's emerged. Perhaps Dee Hart would've been that RB?


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 4:55 p.m.

If you go back and watch the game film from the Wisconsin, Ohio State and Mississippi State games you'll see how the defenses kept Denard in check. When Denard would commit to the run -- and you're right, he tended to do that too quickly -- the defense would contain him in space ... too often behind the line of scrimmage. And that's where Denards one weakness becomes a liability -- he's super fast once he's in motion, but he NOT THAT QUICK OFF THE FIRST STEP. So if the defense could get Robinson contained and motionless, they'd get him. Happened time and time again. Go watch the game film. BUT ... if there's a credible threat that Robinson will not actually run but throw the ball, the defense doesn't dare come in like they did the last few games of last year. They'll get picked apart. Again, if Robinson's passing creates a true credible threat. THEN ... if and when the play develops to a point where there are true running lanes to be exploited, then Robinson taking off will be devastating. ALSO ... can you imagine if there's a credible feature running back threat and Robinson gets good at the fake handoff coming out from under center? Can you imagine the defense biting on that running back with the ball, leaving Robinson holding the ball ... with (hopefully) patience to look for receivers and knowledge of when to take off and use that blazing speed? Oh boy ... oh boy.


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

donaz. . . it's a little early to predicted anything yet, but iif hoke keeps a portion of the spread/shotgun mixed in with the pro-set this offense will NOT be boring and should be quite exciting! GO BLUE!!


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 3:32 p.m.

"To me, the keys to success this year, in order of importance: 1. Denard's ability to throw downfield 2.Will Campbell's development as a force in the interior of the DLine 3. The OLine's ability to create running room inside". Agree completely Burton! A couple of thoughts, I like that Borges is looking for a feature back, I believe that if you create a RB by committee situation that guys might not battle as hard figuring hey I'm one of the guys, I'll get some carries, maybe I won't have to try as hard, just try hard enough. Now, they know if they don't get it done, they will be warming the bench. I too need to see DR be able to have touch throwing the intermediate passes over the middle and the deep outs. I hope he develops that part of his game, that will just make his feet all the more dangerous. If he struggles, I have no problem getting Gardner in there, I want to win. So whoever can win for us, I want that guy in the game.


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 3:23 p.m.

Couple 'o points -- (a) Trust in Borges ... the guy is not an idiot (b) Where are all those naysayers who predicted we'd see three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust in this boring "pro-set?"

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 8:48 p.m.

Where, indeed. Good Night and Good Luck


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

The key to Michigan's offense this year is whether or not DRob can develop as a drop back passer and hit receivers downfield. Defenses will load the box to stop the run and force Denard to beat them with his arm. If he can hit receivers in stride and make the difficult out route throws, then defenses will have to account for it and we'll be able to move the ball and score points. If not, expect interceptions and dink and dunk short yardage pass routes etc. which will make it hard to maintain drives and get 1st downs. I see them moving the pocket and getting him in space to have the run / pass option on most 3rd and long situations. Then as the season progresses and his touch and timing improves, Borges can expand the playbook and open up the offense. To me, the keys to success this year, in order of importance: 1. Denard's ability to throw downfield 2.Will Campbell's development as a force in the interior of the DLine 3. The OLine's ability to create running room inside If these three goals are met, we can win 8,9, heck even 10 games. If not, plan on 6-6 0r 7-5 this year...


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 1:56 p.m.

coach hoke said early on he will use the spread/shotgun 50% of the time and the pro style the other 50%. if one or two backs can step up and help DROB carry the load this offense will score a lot of points. i'am also hoping to see DG get some quality playing time. his skill set will change the offense enough to give the other teams defense a lot of headaches. this kids the real deal. . . GO BLUE!!


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : noon

I agree 100% with DonAZ. A balanced attack is crucial to consistency and to keeping Denard healthy. He took a lot of hits last year as QB/RB and there was a big dropoff he wasn't in there, like Borges said. There is no guarantee that he won't get hurt scrambling this year, either. but the likelihood of him getting hurt diminishes the less he runs the ball and the more he runs out of bounds when he can afford to do so (like when he's already got the first down and a couple of defenders are bearing down on him). Having Devin Gardner get lots of reps and experience is very important, also, now that Gypsy Tate Forcier has moved on to perceived greener pastures.

1st Down

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 7:42 a.m.

From his recent interviews + what I have seen in the limited practice footage online..... Gorgeous Al Borges, who has been called by Coach Hoke "a Football Junkie" .... is really really excited about catering his offense towards Denard's (and Devin's) skill sets. I still see a lot of shotgun, read options and direct snap runs with the QBs in these videos and Al has been working on them to improve their short passing games in his west coast style offense... I really think that this HYBRID will end up working out great for us this season. Al and company are about coaching up the talent to their ability and altering their schemes to fit....


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 6:13 a.m.

Nobody is changing Robertson, what is changing is that Robertson is being developed into a quarterback.

Nic schweigert

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 6:27 p.m.

You ain't much of a Michigan fan if you can't get the quarterbacks name right. It's Robinson not Robertson. Com'on now

1st Down

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 7:43 a.m.

Oscar Robertson? Pat Robertson?


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 6:15 a.m.

Robinson, of course Robinson. Has something else on my mind.


Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 3:21 a.m.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- if a viable running back threat emerges then Denard Robinson will be *even more* dangerous. Defensive coordinators around the league don't like the prospect of a balanced offensive attack *and* the threat of Denard with the ball. Buckle up, boys and girls ... this is going to be a very, very interesting season coming up!

Terry Star21

Thu, Aug 11, 2011 : 3:21 a.m.

I'm thinking our lead back will be Stephen Hopkins and is hopefully ready for a breakout year - he has all the tools, and hopefully new motivation and direction now. I like DRob and I am hoping the best for him, but not running 50% of the time ? The pleasant surprise will be that the opposing defenses will be looking for DRobb to run every carry, so that element of surprise/options will benefit greatly. Borges certainly knows what he is doing and although I think it tough to change DRob, I believe if he says he can, he will - and we'll see a new-improved package. Great motivation video - I'm sold ! MgoBlueForTiM...............and take Stephen Hopkins to the bank............


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 3:33 a.m.

TS21 not disagreeing with you here,but hope that 2 backs come out of this competition,and Al said near the end of the vid,that it doesn't mean we won't put a freshmen out there on 1st down,so the rb doesn't have to worry about pass blocking ,and just run the ball..I'm thinking that might be T.Rawls.. with Hopkins as the feature back.. good post TStar..