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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quickies: Quarterback

Man, Denard's Smile Gets Me Every Time
The Low Down:
Michigan began last season returning, the previous years starter, Tate Forcier, along with Denard Robinson. They also brought in highly touted dual-threat QB Devin Gardner. Well, Tate Forcier lost his wings at the start of camp and by the end of camp he lost his starting job, as Denard beat out Tate and Devin, to win the starting job and Rich Rodriguez believed he had found his next Pat White. Michigan for the 3rd time in as many years would have a first year starting quarterback.

Rich Rodriguez by all accounts made the right decision. In 2010 Denard Robinson put together arguably the best all-around performance a quarterback has ever had accumulating 4,272 total yds, helping Michigan's offense be one of the most prolific offenses in the country. He was named the Big Ten player of the year and was named an All-American. For those of you keeping track Robinson was responsible for just a hair over 67% of Michigan's total offense last year (6,353 yds). Denard's legs were, in my opinion, his most valuable asset as he amassed an NCAA-QB record of 1,702 yds on the ground, which was only 29 yds shy of being the nation's top mark for the year. He also proved that his arm was a Div-1 arm as he completed 62.5% of his passes for 2,570 yds. Not too shabby for a first year starter, that wasn't recruited as a QB by basically any other program, save UCF.

However, for all of the exciting plays and incredible memories, the picture isn't all roses and butterflies. Because of the heavy emphasis on the usage of Denard's legs (19.69 att/gm), Denard missed time in 10 of 13 games last season. Devin Gardner began the season as the backup until the emphasis of him getting a redshirt cleared the way for the more experienced Forcier to be the immediate back-up to Robinson. Forcier seemed to pick right up from '09 and even led Michigan to a win in triple-OT against Illinois, securing Michigan's first bowl in 2 seasons.

Robinson tied for the league lead in INT's with 11 and he also struggled in the red zone where he only completed 44.1% of his passes. I attribute much of those struggles to a first year starter who felt the need for his offense to score on every drive to keep pace with the opponents walking past our defense.

1 Year Later:
Much has transpired since the Gator Bowl. Tate Forcier was sent home during the bowl week for grades. He then awkwardly left the program after he was maybe told, "thanks but no thanks", by Dave Brandon. He was going to play at Miami, than maybe Hawaii, and eventually he has found a home at San Jose St. We'll always have Notre Dame 2009.

Welp, On To The Next One

In that same time Rich Rod was canned and Michigan  lost the proposed puppet master to, Denard and the offense's success and in the process scratched the whole spread 'n' shred. Would he stay or would he go? That was the big question surrounding Denard Robinson after Rich Rodriguez was let go. Denard stayed and it does not appear that, to him, leaving was ever a question. So, Denard's back, Devin will be backing him up, and Michigan was able to snatch yet another recruit from the grips of Purdue on national signing day, in project QB, Russell Bellomy.

QB- Depth Chart
Denard Robinson (Jr.)
Devin Gardner (Soph.)
Russell Bellomy (Fr.)
Jack Kennedy (RS Jr.)

Al Borges is now our offensive coordinator. He will bring his west-coast offense and  Brady Hoke wants to run MANBALL, allowing the offense establish a running game that doesn't consist of Denard, Denard, and more Denard. The fascinating thing about Denard's numbers last season was that he did it, missing time in all of those games and it's not like teams didn't know it was coming either. Week-in and week-out teams knew they'd be getting a heavy dose of Denard. The major transitions for Denard will be coming from under-center, and the passing game which is going to be much more timing oriented. Denard seems to be doing a good job adapting according to Borges.
"He's playing good. He's kind of a kick to coach. He's upbeat all the time." He's been receptive to every bit of coaching since he's been here. Timing is getting better in the passing game every day. The guys worked in the off-season, but there was room for improvement. "It's not there yet, but it's showing some promise."
If there's one thing the previous coaching staff could take from the RR tenure is that whole, not coaching to your talents thing, RR was accused so adamantly of doing in his first year. I think Borges is a smart guy and he's still going to let Denard be Denard. Ace from thewolverineblog, posted this blurb from a Rittenberg piece on the offense. Al Borges had this to say...

Our offense is not zone read or spread,” offensive coordinator Al Borges said, “but we’ll do some of that stuff.”
Borges envisions Michigan’s quarterbacks lining up under center about half the time, perhaps a little more than half. The rest of the time, they’ll line up in the shotgun. In the shotgun, Michigan will use two running backs about half the time and one back or no backs the other half the time.
But before you think you have it all figured out, read this.
“Schematically, we’re blowing everything up and starting over again,” Borges said. “We’re still going to gear everything we do offensively to the skills of the people that are doing it, in particular the quarterback. Are we going to look just like we did at San Diego State? Probably not.
“We may in three or four years. We’ll see how this thing evolves.”
Brady Hoke takes it one step further...
"You've got a system that you wanna run, but you're not going to be putting a square peg into a round hole either." Al Borges has a coaching pedigree that proves he can adapt to different personnel. He'll get playmakers the ball. "At the end of the day, we've still gotta block up front, and knock people off the football."
So yeah, MANBALL with a good amount of things the Denard's really good at, like running stuff from the gun.

Expectations: What is them?
So the general consensus across the national media seems to be, that this new offensive scheme is most likely going to hurt Denard's production. I personally couldn't disagree more. While they focus on just the idea of a scheme change, I prefer to focus on what the coaches have said and what that actual scheme change means for Denard, Devin, or anybody else that lines up at QB next season.

So let's run it down... Denard missed significant time last year, if Michigan can find a #1  running back to take the running pressure off of Denard, that only means a better chance of having a health Denard all year and it doesn't allow teams to key on him alone. I don't know about you, but healthy Denard all year? Yes, PLZ!!!

Running things from under-center is only going to open up opportunities for the QB's to make plays with their feet. Many of Denard's runs last year were designed runs. What happens, when Denard or Devin drops back, can't find an open receiver and has wide open running lanes? With the ability Denard has, I expect him to absolutely break off some big ones this year when the play breaks down. Will he run for over 1700 yds again, probably not. The good news is, I don't think he will have to.

The one area of slight concern for me, is in the passing game. Once we get in the red zone Denard has to improve on that 44% number from last year, and how does he respond to timing and precision routes. To answer both of those I think he will look like a quarterback with a year of experience under his belt. We saw what kind of jump he made from year 1 to year 2 and there has been nothing but positive feed back from the summer and the start of fall camp about his work ethic towards the changes to his footwork and the passing game in general.

There's a great chance for Denard to be just as effective, he'll probably throw for more yards, maybe somewhere in the 2,800-3,000 range and probably run for less, most likely somewhere between 1,000-1,300. If one of the backs takes charge and becomes very serviceable, I will be just fine with those numbers and I expect him to be right up there for All Big-Ten contention. Lastly, if Denard does go down, I don't think Gardner will be too much of a drop off. He's not as much of a threat in the running game, but he's a big tall guy who can see the field from the pocket and when he does run, he's dangerous (think Bowling Green last year).

So fear not, my friends, when doubt creeps in your mind between now and September 3rd, remember this smile and you will be at ease...

As always, Go Blue

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