Starting spots usually aren’t won or lost in spring practice, but young guys get a chance to prove themselves and gain experience while everyone else gets to show how much they developed throughout the winter.
Development was apparent in one key player today, as sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson lived up to the hype he’s been garnering all spring with a fantastic performance in Michigan’s annual spring game.
On the first possession of the scrimmage, Robinson guided the first-team offense down the field on a touchdown drive that included a nice bootleg pass to Roy Roundtree. Robinson ran it in from 10 yards out to cap off the drive.
On his next possession, which the offense started on its own three-yard line, Robinson hit Roundtree perfectly in stride about 25 yards downfield and Roundtree did the rest, outrunning the secondary for a 97-yard touchdown.
Later on, Robinson found Roundtree in the end zone again, this time from 12 yards out.
In the overtime drill, which simulates an overtime possession, starting from the opponent’s 25-yard line, Robinson completed a touchdown pass to Martavious Odoms from about 10 yards out. On his next possession, also the overtime drill, he threaded the needle for a 24-yard pass to Terrance Robinson to set up another touchdown.
By my count, Robinson led five drives, two of them overtime possessions, and all five resulted in touchdowns. Some of this can be attributed to playing against the second-team defense, but with the way Robinson was throwing, it wouldn’t have mattered if the first-team defense was out there or not.
One of the quirks about the spring game is that the quarterback is down once he’s touched in an effort to avoid an injury. On many of Robinson’s runs, he would have picked up significantly more yardage if he had to actually be tackled.
Most importantly, he showed poise in the pocket, where last year he would tuck and run after three milliseconds. A few times, he looked through several reads before pulling it down and running. On a couple of plays, he kept his head up while on the move and delivered an accurate strike to an open receiver.
This wouldn’t be all that significant if you hadn’t seen him play last season. While he dazzled Michigan fans with his feet in open space, his accuracy was terrible to the point where Michigan fans would rather him just run it up the middle for five yards even though the defense knew he’d do exactly that, than even attempt to throw a pass.
Today, he looked comfortable running the offense and seemed to be having as much fun out there as any other player in the maize and blue. About the only aspect that looked like it needed some work was a couple of bubble screens that were either underthrown or led the receiver too far.
I wish the coaches would have switched things up to pit Robinson against the first-team defense, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless.
The development and comfort level was evident and showed how dangerous a Robinson-led offense can be when every pass thrown doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
Last year, almost every time he lined up in the shotgun the defense knew he was going to run it. He rarely even ran the zone read, the staple of Rich Rodriguez’s offense.
This year, he should know the offense and be able to effectively run the zone read, and if he can prove he has any kind of accuracy, he would be the ideal quarterback for this offense.
I certainly realize it’s a lot of “ifs” and you can’t really jump to conclusions based on the spring game, but at this point, I would say Robinson is the starting quarterback heading into the summer.
Click here to see highlights of the top 10 plays from the spring game.
— Tate Forcier, who started all 12 games as a true freshman last year, looked basically the exact same, although he was working with the second-team offense against the first-team defense.
He made some good plays, scrambling away from pressure and hitting the receiver on the run, but he also made some mistakes.
One pass should have been picked off by linebacker Mike Jones and another was forced into quadruple coverage and somehow wasn’t picked. He also made a bad pitch on an option play, which was recovered by the running back for about a 10 yard loss.
On the bright side, he completed a nice, across-the-body touchdown pass to Je’Ron Stokes in the overtime drill.
—Freshman Devin Gardner started out shaky, fumbling a handoff on his first play and throwing an interception deep in his own territory to Obi Ezeh, but seemed to rebound nicely with a 20-yard seam pass to Brandon Moore.
He looked nimble with his feet, but still has a weird throwing motion that needs to be fixed. He could be great a year or two from now, but I’m glad we don’t have to start another true freshman this season. He’s certainly headed for a redshirt barring a freak injury to Robinson or Forcier.
—Roy Roundtree is the real deal. He played just as he finished last season and looks to be Michigan’s go-to guy this year. He caught deep balls and screens and showed some speed in pulling away from the secondary on the 97-yard touchdown.
—The running back position has a lot of guys vying for playing time and no one really stood out today. With Vincent Smith assumed to be the starter out with a torn ACL, it seems to be a three-horse race between Michael Shaw, Michael Cox, and Fitzgerald Toussaint.
It’s perhaps the most important position that needs someone to step up, at least on the offensive side of the ball, after the departure of Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, and Kevin Grady.
Cox had a nice touchdown run of about 20 yards against the first-team defense and the other guys didn’t do very much.
Freshman Stephen Hopkins showed some good strength and should see playing time as the short-yardage back this season.
—The defense didn’t show much today in the way of schemes or big plays. Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh got some good pressure on Forcier and William Campbell looks huge in the middle of the line.
Troy Woolfolk sat out the game with a dislocated finger and converted wide receiver James Rogers started in his place, opposite J.T. Floyd. Jordan Kovacs remains the starter at one of the safety spots, at least until Marvin Robinson and Demar Dorsey arrive on campus this summer.
The secondary will continue to be the group in question as the season nears, but linebacker will also be a position to watch. Seniors Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton both have a lot of experience, but lost some playing time last season. They both started today, with Ezeh recording an interception and Mouton looking solid.
Redshirt sophomore Kenny Demens also looked promising and could factor in this season as well.
—The kicking game looked pretty shaky and will probably be so all season. Redshirt freshman kicker Brendan Gibbons figures to be the placekicker, but the lefty sure can’t punt. Two of his three punt attempts were shanked out of bounds off the side of his foot.
The punter role seems to be incoming freshman Will Hagerup’s to lose, but he hasn’t even arrived on campus yet, so he better live up to his high school acclaim.
—The stadium looked a bit more than half full, despite the frigid temperatures. The Big Ten Network announcers placed the attendance around 30,000, but it looked to be slightly more.
I’m looking forward to a couple of years from now when Michigan can have a nationally televised spring game drawing near 100,000 fans like Alabama did today.