Quarterback Denard Robinson gets down on himself as Michigan tries to solve passing woes
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
It takes a lot to wipe that smile off Denard Robinson's face.
But the electrifying quarterback has smiled less around the media in recent weeks as his passing woes have accelerated. He is completing less than 50 percent of his throws as No. 19 Michigan (4-0) embarks on the start of Big Ten play Saturday against Minnesota (Noon, BTN).
He was at 71 percent after four games last year.
"I've been kind of pounding myself about missing guys, and I know I have to do stuff to get better," Robinson said.
The junior from Deerfield Beach, Fla., has yet to get untracked in the passing game, and much of it comes back to his accuracy. But the problem seems to be more than physical.
The pro-style elements installed by offensive coordinator Al Borges have put more emphasis on tougher throws and progressions than what Robinson ran last year in the spread-option attack. So far, he has struggled to adjust.
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
"I’ve got to put him in position to complete some more balls so he can gain some confidence and gain some rhythm," Borges said. "This kid really threw the ball well in two-a-days and threw the ball well in spring. He did. All his numbers were better numbers than now. I think game situations are different."
Borges has tried to ease Robinson into the new offense. The original plan called for the junior to run 10 to 15 times per game, but he's exceeded that range in every game except the weather-shortened opener.
Robinson was expected to split time between being under center and in the shotgun, with an emphasis on the former to help get the tailbacks going. Instead, Borges has gone from 68.4-percent shotgun formations in the opener — which he said at the time was too much — to 79.0 percent Saturday against San Diego State.
Robinson attempted just four passes from under center against the Aztecs, three of which were 5 yards or shorter. He went 2-for-4 on them and finished 8-for-17 overall for 93 yards and two interceptions.
Clearly, Michigan's offensive game plan has changed due to Robinson's struggles.
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"You’ll see the difference in a year," Borges said. "I had Cade McNown at UCLA. The first year, he was 10th in the conference in passing efficiency. His second year, he led the country in passing efficiency.
"How do you make that much of a quantum leap? Is it all of a sudden a magic wand touched you and you’re an accurate passer? No. It’s understanding the offense."
Part of the problem also is being able to recognize defenses, an issue that is exacerbated by Robinson. He is such a unique talent, opponents change their defenses when they face Michigan.
That means much of what the Wolverines' offense prepares for on film and in practice isn't featured on game day.
"Most people were locking up our receivers and try to sink a guy in to play Denard so they could play Denard partly with the (defensive line) and with an extra player on top," he said. "That’s a good way to play him, if you don’t have the weapons to exploit that and you’re not throwing the ball well.”
To be sure, Michigan hasn't thrown the ball particularly well.
Of course, the tricky part about evaluating Robinson is this: For as bad as he's looked in the passing game, he's thrived in the running game. Without him, Michigan likely wouldn't be 4-0.
He rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns against San Diego. He leads the Big Ten in rushing by 131 yards, and he averages better than a yard per carry more than anyone else in the league.
Since the NCAA does not recognize the Western Michigan game statistically, Robinson actually leads the nation in rushing.
It helps to buoy his spirits, no matter how bad things get in the air.
"He’s a little bit of an unflappable kid," Borges said of his conversations with Robinson during games. "He got frustrated because he’s competitive, but I don’t sense that he gets shaken or rattled. That’s not really much in his demeanor.
"Everybody has times where you’re not feeling good about the way things are going, but I don’t see Denard Robinson turning into Jell-O. I don’t sense it on the headset. I don’t sense it in my every day interactions with him. He’s a pretty cool kid.”
Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.
Fri, Sep 30, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.
Dude couldnt hit the side of a barn, from the inside. When the big boys come to play look for a butt kicking. We have seen this before, not a BIG TEN QB.
Fri, Sep 30, 2011 : 5:19 p.m.
You may want to take another look at the Big Ten's QB's, more than half are duel threat QB's. Last year DR was the first QB in NCAA history to pass for over 2,500yds and run for over 1,500yds, and that was as a sophomore, first year starter.
Fri, Sep 30, 2011 : 5:20 a.m.
I have been saying this from day one of spring ball. If we stick with the RR/Magee offense and run most everything from shotgun with zone blocking, we'll be fine. All this pro style, Air Denard I-form stuff is NOT working. That's not to say that it won't work some day, but we need to do what we do best right now. The key is getting production from the running backs in the RR/Magee style offense. Once you have that, Denard carries the ball a lot less and we will have huge success on offense.
Fri, Sep 30, 2011 : 1:51 a.m.
..Right On Tally.. Go Blue! v
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 9:59 p.m.
DR is a different style QB, most under center, pocket passers do not run a 4.3 ( 40 ), this progression is more conducive to a bigger, slower QB. I noticed a couple times that DR had come from under center so fast that the receivers had not completed their routes ( the timing wasn't there ), DR bounced in the pocket while the DB's adjusted seeing that it was an obvious pass. I agree, I think giving him shorter passes ( or rolling him out ), quick hit routes will boost his confidence. Also, M have three good receivers that can create after the catch, a good receiving RB, a good TE, and an established running game ( over 200+ yds the last 2 games ), the pieces are there. Borges and DR will work it out for one of the best offenses ( all you need is 10 yds at a time ) in the Big Ten. Go Blue!!!
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.
I believe Denard will pull it together. He's tough, and he's resilient. Not to mention, he is probably harder on himself than anyone else is! He is all about the team, and I believe he will make the transition sooner than later. GO BLUE!
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 8:56 p.m.
A throwing motion is very delicate. Denard has absorbed a lot of hits. It would stand to reason that his accuracy would be far better in spring practice. You can either limit the number of hits on your quarterback or limit his accuracy. Can't have both. And it's only going to get worse, because the defenses in the Big Ten hit harder than the defenses in the MAC.
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 7:41 p.m.
Who cares. Denard is the most electrifying player in Michigan history!
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 9:42 p.m.
I'm more entertained when Big Ten championships are on the line. This 6-18 record over the last three seasons? Not so entertaining, even with a dancing quarterback.
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 9:28 p.m.
Fortunately, sports are entertainment, and he is entertaining.
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 8:54 p.m.
Unfortunately, number of individuals who can conduct electricity is not how they decide football games.
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 6:12 p.m.
Maybe it would help if Al came down from the press box and coached Denard from the sidelines. Denard will be fine, given time. We (the fans) are just(afibily) concerned as we don't know how good this team is. Sure Michigan is 4-0 but that didn't work out so well last year.
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 6:08 p.m.
Denard just needs stilts to see over the other players.
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.
I think Borges is right. he needs to scale back the transition and use more of the passing schemes from last year. Running Smith and Touissant more will take some of the pressure off Denard, but I doubt Denard can develop the comfort and skills to be accurate dropping back in the pocket this season, or next year for that matter. Make the full transition to a pro style offense with Devin Gardner in 2014, even more so in 2015 with Shane Morris. Borges needs creativity rather than rigidity in optimizing and transitioning this offense over the next few years. U of M purists hated Rich Rods offense, but whatever it's faults as ball control when your up; if the defense had been as good as Maddison's seems to be (no great but much improved) than last years offense would have just ran away with many games they lost. lastly, I think it not realistic to believe Denard can make a transition that only Mike Vick seems to have pulled off in his 30's after years in the pro's. The kids what 21?
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 9:27 p.m.
This is what I've been saying for a few weeks now. It's great that Al is using the kind of running scheme that allows Denard to shine, but he's not using anything from Rich Rodriguez's passing playbook. Should he? I don't know. But we know Denard was a more efficient passer last season, and the only difference is the playbook.
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 4:08 p.m.
Starting with Spring and all summer the emphasis has been "under center, under center". With each game Al Borges is undoing more and more of that. Denard is throwing out of different offenses and techniques, and been rushing and forcing some throws. It's normal for teams to require a portion of the season to find what works best. I beleve Brady and Al are not so stubborn that they won't do whatever it takes to make Michian the best team, heck, they're adapting more and more Rich Rodriguez plays every week. I believe Denard will start hitting 67% of the passes and when he does, hold on to your Strohs.
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 3:43 p.m.
While he's shown us he's not a great passer, I still have confidence that he can get it going. This is based purely on hope :( If defenses don't respect his pass, then the running aspect of his game will never work either. Shut down Michigan's QB run, force Denard to pass, and tally up the INTs. Denard has thrown some quality passes in his career at Michigan, so I'm banking on that coming together this season with Michigan entering Big Ten play.
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 3:38 p.m.
Note to fans...don't worry about this kid, he'll do what he needs to do, to get his mechanics in order. Reading defenses comes with reps, and, with studying film. He'll get the former as he moves through the season. He'll get the latter, much quicker than anyone here would expect. My concern from day one, hasn't been his dedication to the game, or to the team. It has been the likelihood of his getting hurt. As we move into the league schedule, the 'head-hunters' will have him as their no.1 target..if you know what I mean.
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:46 p.m.
This one guy that I know said Denard will throw for 500 yards against Minnesota this Saturday. Trust me, this guy knows what he's talking about, he is a retired WCW referee. MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEANchigan!!!!!!!
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 1:55 p.m.
I think you mean he has yet to get his passing game "on track", Kyle. So far it has definitely been "untracked". Denard and the coaches will get this handled. It's taking longer than everyone would like, and they'll get it done. Go Blue!
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:16 p.m.
I stand corrected. Learn something everyday.
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 2:09 p.m.
BornninA2, "untracked" actually means "to get on track." Thanks for keeping me honest, though!
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:41 p.m.
I truly believe that in the future, Michigan fans will look back on denard in the same fond reminiscent ways that we look back on Anthony Carter. He is frustrating to watch when he overthrows though I think that is correctible. But there is no more enjoyable player to watch in college football today. Go blue
Thu, Sep 29, 2011 : 12:14 p.m.
" He's a pretty cool kid " he stuck with Michigan when others would have bailed in the middle of a coaching change. The critics need to be silenced and give him some space to learn. The list of universities wanting him must have been long, but he stuck with his team and we all should be thankful.