2012 Season Countdown: #1 Denard Robinson

2012 Season Countdown: #1 Denard Robinson


August 29, 2012
Denard Robinson

 Name: Denard Robinson
Height: 6’0″
Weight: 197 lbs.
High school: Deerfield Beach (FL) Deerfield Beach
Position: Quarterback
Class: Senior
Jersey number: #16
Last year: I ranked Robinson #2 and said he would pass for 2,700 yards, rush for 900 yards, and score 28 total touchdowns; I also pegged him for All-Big Ten First Team.  He went 142/258 passing (55%) for 2,173 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions.  He also ran 221 times for 1,176 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns.

Last year I took some flak for ranking Robinson #2, placing him behind nose tackle Mike Martin.  Considering the defense’s turnaround and Martin’s extremely productive season (64 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks), I feel justified in having made that decision.  The offense was already good, but the defense needed to make some huge strides and Martin was a stud in the middle of that defense.

Meanwhile, it’s tough to say that Robinson needed to have a good season for Michigan to be a good team, because Robinson struggled at times.  His final numbers were very good in lots of areas (passing yardage, rushing yardage, touchdowns, wins, etc.), but he struggled passing the ball early in the season.  Those final numbers included 15 interceptions and a completion percentage of 55%.  Out of the top 100 passers in the FBS last season, he tied for the sixth-most interceptions and had the eighth-worst completion percentage.  Especially early in the season, he struggled with the transition to a pro-style offense and looked very uncomfortable dropping back from under center.

In the second half of the year, however, offensive coordinator Al Borges started to get a better feel for Robinson’s skills and seemed to simplify the offense for him.  Borges seemed to run more shotgun plays while still using multiple tight ends, and Robinson seemed to have a little more consistency and a higher comfort level in the pocket.  And while he wasn’t quite as explosive in the running game, he still was the second-best rushing quarterback in yards per game (behind Chandler Harnish from Northern Illinois).  He had quite possibly the best performance of his career against Ohio State in November when he was 14/17 passing for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns to go along with 26 carries for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground.  His raw numbers were arguably better against teams like Notre Dame and UConn in 2010, but his game management in putting up 40 points and 5 touchdowns against the Buckeyes was outstanding.

This year Robinson is clearly the most important player on the team.  The new starters along the defensive line mean that the defense as a whole might take a step back, and that means the offense needs to take a step forward for Michigan to maintain its trajectory toward an elite level.  The good thing is that Borges understands him better now and should start the season with better offensive play calls.  The bad thing is that Robinson lost his favorite target in Junior Hemingway, a solid guy in Martavious Odoms, and a pretty good tight end in Kevin Koger.  Those players are being replaced by Roy Roundtree (likely a step down from Hemingway), Drew Dileo (a step down from Odoms), and a combination of Brandon Moore/Devin Funchess (Moore is a step down, while Funchess might provide a spark in the passing game).  He does have a couple wild cards in Jeremy Jackson, who could catch some of those jump balls downfield but doesn’t have much speed, and backup quarterback/part-time receiver Devin Gardner, who has oodles of talent but zero experience at wide receiver.

So.  What happens in 2012?  Robinson should cut down on those interceptions because he understands the offense better, even though he’ll still probably toss up some jump balls that come down in the hands of guys wearing different-colored jerseys.  He will still be fast and run the ball a lot.  Along with Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, Robinson is one of two preseason Big Ten favorites to enter the Heisman race.  He will probably throw too many picks and lose too many games to win the award, but he’s clearly the biggest star quarterback in the conference.  Very good things will happen.  Great things probably won’t.  There’s probably no national championship or Heisman coming this season, but Robinson will solidify himself as an all-time Wolverine great, if he hasn’t done so already.

And if Robinson gets hurt for any significant portion of the season, the whole thing goes plop.  Gardner has a lot of talent but makes questionable decisions, and #3 quarterback Russell Bellomy looks like he’s a year or two away from being a Big Ten-quality starter.

Prediction: Starting quarterback; 2,400 yards passing; 1,200 yards rushing; 34 total touchdowns, 10 interceptions; First Team All-Big Ten; Second Team All-American; Heisman finalist

23 comments

  1. Comments: 21384
    Anonymous
    Aug 29, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    Great job on this feature once again.

    FWIW, I think that it won't be doomsday if Denard gets hurt and Bellomy comes in. I'm thinking of an injury to Lewan is our real doomsday scenario. I think that I would have put Lewan #1 on this list. I think that he is ultimately the team's best player right now.

    • Comments: 21384
      Aug 29, 2012 at 2:16 PM

      But that's not what this list is about. If Lewan goes down, Schofield slides over and someone else takes over right tackle. Definitely a step down, but not doomsday.

      I really don't understand the blogosphere's obsession with Bellomy. It seems more than typical everyone-loves-the-backup hoopla.

    • Comments: 21384
      Aug 29, 2012 at 2:18 PM

      FWIW, I've been fairly high on Bellomy since he was recruited.

    • Comments: 21384
      Lanko
      Aug 29, 2012 at 3:12 PM

      I've been high on Bellomy too. But we have a 5-star recruit who is our backup QB – and he'll probably start at QB for us next year. Gardner is a good player. I don't know why no one believes our coaches AGAIN about the QB situation being what it is.

    • Comments: 21384
      Aug 29, 2012 at 4:03 PM

      …especially since the official depth chart for Alabama has Gardner as the #2 QB.

  2. Comments: 21384
    Anonymous
    Aug 29, 2012 at 1:48 PM

    I dunno Anon. If we lose the most explosive player in the Big Ten and have to replace him with a redshirt freshman who has never taken a snap, I think that would be pretty bad for the offense.

    Agree though, great job on this feature Magnus. Where does Denard's performance in last year's OSU game rank among the all time greats? Just behind Biakabutuka in '95, but on par with Woodson in '97?

    • Comments: 21384
      Aug 29, 2012 at 2:17 PM

      Hmmm…I don't know about "all time" because I'd have to do some research, but in the last 20 years, I'd probably say:

      1. Biakabutuka
      2. Robinson
      3. Woodson

  3. Comments: 21384
    Painter Smurf
    Aug 29, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    No arguments from me. If Denard goes down, the offense will need a major overhaul because so much of what they do is tailored to his skills. And of course defensive coordinators are all geared up to stop Denard, so the dynamic for UM on offense would change drastically with another QB.

    Even though Denard had some rough completion percentage and interception numbers last season, those numbers could have been worse. He was bailed out constantly on long balls by the WR's and I thought the opposing defenses left quite a few picks on the field last year.

    Even though this is not a great crop of receivers, you know that guys will be getting open because of the run threats from Denard and Fitz, and Borges' creativity. Denard's accuracy and timing throwing the ball is the overwhelming key to how the offense fares this season.

    • Comments: 21384
      Lanko
      Aug 29, 2012 at 3:26 PM

      A lot of those plays weren't 'bail-outs' but called plays to throw the ball up to our WRs. Hemingway definitely did have a handful of bailouts but they were a small percentage of Denard's passes.

      The WRs are going to be solid. Roundtree is not as bad as he looked last year – the coaches aren't fools and they played Roundtree ahead of decent-to-good players like Odoms and Grady. Roy's a year older, better, wiser. He'll be a quality player. Gallons also a very underrated player poised for a breakout. And someone out of the Gardner, Robinson, Darboh, Funchess group of big guys will emerge as a threat as well. The WRs are going to be strong – again, it's going to be about Denard consistently getting the ball to them without handing it to the Other team.

  4. Comments: 21384
    Lanko
    Aug 29, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    Good post, well put.

    The only part I disagree with is your assessment of his backup. After the 2010 season a lot of people wanted to move Robinson to WR because Gardner was the better passer and the better QB. Now, with a season under his belt including meaningful snaps where he looked like a pretty decent player (especially for a guy who was functionally a RS Freshman) people think Gardner is terrible and want him to play WR instead.

    Meanwhile – the coaches told us at the start of last year that Denard was the starter but that Gardner was pushing him and had a lot of ability. This year, they're still saying Gardner is the clear backup (ahead of mob-favorite Bellomy). They want him on the field at WR because he's such a talent (and they lack big WR), but that shouldn't be taken as an indictment of his QB skills

    ALL THAT is to say: What is with Michigan fans and their schizophrenic views on backup QBs!?

    Devin can play and he can play well at QB. If Denard goes out, we lose an amazing talent, but we insert a player that can still beat you. His game is different than Denard – Devin's a better scrambler, improviser, and IMO a better passer on intermediate stuff but he's not the same kind of consistent runner and doesn't have the same arm strength. Yes, Devin will look more like early '11 Denard than OSU '11 Denard, but we're not talking about reverting to the Sheridan/Threet era. Both QBs can run, both will make their share of mistakes. Denard's a bigger play threat and he demands more defensive attention – but Gardner will make plays and challenge the perimeter too. We're not talking about Mercury and Neptune here.

    For that reason, I think Denard won't be as costly as losing a guy like Lewan…but it's hard to argue with putting an amazing and special talent like Denard at #1. There is no question this team has almost zero chance of beating Alabama and OSU without Denard on the field.

    • Comments: 21384
      Painter Smurf
      Aug 29, 2012 at 5:22 PM

      Gardner has been hyped independent of evidence, just like BWC. When they come in with the recruiting rankings and impressive physical skills and then do not show the goods in college, fans have trouble letting go. Especially if they are at a position with weak depth. In the case of both players, you have had a couple insiders keep the hype alive and then many general fans just running with it.

      Based on spring games and mop-up duty, Forcier, Denard, and Bellomy all looked more natural as freshman QB's than Gardner looked even in his third spring. The guy just does not have the decision making skills required to be a good QB. He cannot run zone read, he has difficulty deciding whether to run/pass, he is uncomfortable in the pocket, and his passing vision is not even as good as Denard's. He has looked mediocre at best in three straight spring games, and his early-enrollment spring was probably his best.

      The coaches have been hyping Gardner as well, but there is a good reason for that. UM does not have good depth at the position and the transfer rate for highly recruited QB's who are on the bench is super high. The coaches knew Denard was their guy, but they're not going to go public with that and risk discouraging a key back-up. I also suspect that as of last summer, Borges still hoped that he could potentially coach up Gardner at QB.

      If they really thought Gardner was a likely QB starter in 2013, they would not have him focusing on WR this camp, as has been reported. Maybe moonlighting, but that's it. As you mention, the WR's may not be dynamite, but there are some decent players there. Gardner's future and UM and in the NFL is at WR. Hopefully, he realizes this and puts all of his effort into it.

    • Comments: 21384
      Lanko
      Aug 29, 2012 at 5:40 PM

      Gardner was overhyped last year and is underhyped this year. There are exceptions, but most QBs evolve and improve but aren't real good passers until they are upperclassmen. Forcier (similar to Henne) was an exception – a highly polished product out of HS. Denard was a godawful passer as a freshman, but his legs. Bellomy is a red-shirt: his hype is based on spring game – which is why Gardner got overrated a year ago before sanity re-asserted itself.

      Gardner wasn't great last year, but he also wasn't bad. This year, he should be better. Next year, he could be excellent.

      The coaches gain nothing from hyping Gardner at this point. He's not going to transfer now when the starting position opens up for him next year.

      The WR isn't an indictment of his ability as QB, its a testament to his overall talent and ability. He's an athlete – and if we've learned anything through Denard it should be that athleticism can be a huge asset at QB.

      I don't think Gardner's NFL position needs to be his college position. It might even be better for him to have a QB's understanding.

    • Comments: 21384
      Painter Smurf
      Aug 29, 2012 at 5:57 PM

      Regarding the Gardner hype, I was referring to your comment about him "pushing Denard" before the 2011 season. I have not heard that level of hype this season. By the way, I don't necessarily believe that Bellomy will be a star. I just think he is better than Gardner, which is not a bold statement. They should both get their shots this year in mop-up or injury time, so we will see.

    • Comments: 21384
      Lanko
      Aug 29, 2012 at 9:19 PM

      @PS

      It's a little bold. Gardner's been better the last 2 years and the coaches have said there is no controversy. I think that in general people make too big of a deal out of spring practice. It's all the information we get for many many months, so it's somewhat understandable – but the usefulness of that sort of situational experiment and snapshot in time is far more limited than most people allow, IMO.

  5. Comments: 21384
    Anonymous
    Aug 29, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    Nice job on this, Magnus. Good work on the entire list; and especially #1.

    The photo — is that from the 2009 game? Is it Denard's first play in college football?

    Let's hope we don't have to find out what sort of backup Russell Bellomy is. (Maybe we will find out what kind of 'garbage time' player he is no matter what. Which goes back to your most challenging entry; Devin Gardner.)

    Section 1

    • Comments: 21384
      Anonymous
      Aug 29, 2012 at 4:36 PM

      I just answered my own question. Thank, you, YouTube.
      Magnus' photo is indeed Denard's first play in college football:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1402kDBdTU

      (Same armbands, same under-shirt, Tay Odoms as his wingman running into the south endzone, the Rodriguez-era staff in white polos and khaki pants on the west sideline, the "old" scoreboard barely visible in the north endzone.)

      What a glorious day that was. The first game of 2009; six days after the publication of the Freep's stretchgate story, with Mark Snyder having predicted in print that Western would upset Michigan.

      Section 1

  6. Comments: 21384
    Lanko
    Aug 29, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Talking Denard's best game – for me it's UConn '10. That was a pretty decent team and Denard absolutely shredded them. The defense didn't even look too bad that game either (since some injuries hadn't yet hit) meaning Denard didn't get 40 series to put up his crazy stats.

    I agree OSU was his most impressive passing performance – he was very very accurate that game. And OSU was a much much better defense than UConn. Denard's a year and a half older/better…But UConn was really the pinnacle IMO of the way Michigan's Spread offense could really dominate and embarrass another team – and most of it was Denard's doing. Before other teams figured out what Michigan couldn't do – UConn took a straight-ahead approach at defending Denard Robinson and got destroyed. It wasn't the most meaningful game, but man was it fun.

  7. Comments: 21384
    Anonymous
    Aug 29, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    If Lewan goes down, Schofield will be out of position at LT, and whoever replaces him at RT will be either a walk-on or a true freshman. Remember Steve Schilling in the 2007 OSU game? That's what every game will be like for the new RT. If Denard goes down, you have a guy coming up who at least fits the system physically and isn't a true freshman. And Denard still looks like a true freshman out there on his bad days. If we lose him, we lose our greatest athlete, but we also lose arguably the most turnover-prone QB that we have ever had.

    • Comments: 21384
      Aug 29, 2012 at 5:23 PM

      Schofield has been practicing plenty at LT. He's no more "out of position" than a standard backup LT would be. And Denard might be turnover-prone, but he's also the best we've got right now. I'd rather have a backup RT/LT than a backup QB who's been an iffy performer in his limited chances.

    • Comments: 21384
      Lanko
      Aug 29, 2012 at 5:47 PM

      Thunder – are you saying LT and RT are basically the same thing? does that go for RG and LG? Weren't you arguing the opposite of this a few weeks back?

      Let's not forget that Denard was also an iffy performer in his limited chances at one time. Tom Brady went from 5.2 to 6.9 to 7.5 to 7.6 ypa. He went from a 15/12 TD/INT ratio to 20/6 in his senior year. Navaree went from 6.3 ypa and 17/12 TD/INT as a soph to 7.3 YPA and 24/10 TD/INT as a senior. QBs are not RBs – their passing improves significantly over time.

    • Comments: 21384
      Aug 29, 2012 at 5:51 PM

      No, that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that Schofield played LT in practice last year when Lewan hurt his elbow, practiced there some throughout the last year, and has been Lewan's primary backup there this season. It's not the same thing, but he's well rehearsed at both. Losing Lewan would be a step down, but probably not drastically if Schofield is as good as he's supposed to be.

    • Comments: 21384
      Aug 29, 2012 at 8:12 PM

      True that the step from Lewan to Schofield isnt crazy huge but what of the domino effect? The RT replacement for Scho would make Huyge look like an NFL franchise LT and we all know how well he faired against the better pass rushing teams. I have to agree that Lewan is more important than Denard.

    • Comments: 21384
      Lanko
      Aug 29, 2012 at 9:16 PM

      Schofield was the OL's 6th man last year. He may have practiced there some last year, but he also practiced at RT and LG. This year hasn't started yet, so I don't know how he's 'been Lewan's primary backup'.

      That's all beside the main point which is that if you move Schofield away there is a huge dropoff at RT to whatever replacement is there. AND there is a dropoff at LT. Saying a starter is another starter's backup is an incomplete picture, to put it mildly.

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