Denard Robinson can throw the ball, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said today. But the senior can also catch and run with it, bringing other options into the picture.
Hoke for the first time acknowledged Robinson has been working some in the return game, meaning he might be a weapon there when the Wolverines take on South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
The Michigan boss didn't say much, noting Robinson has been doing "a little bit," there, and that "we might" use him in the game. But when asked how the quarterback can adjust to seeing the football and catching it in return efforts, he spoke up a bit more.
"Certain things guys do really well," Hoke said. "We talk about Jake Ryan having pretty good football instincts. Well, he didn't learn them. He just has them. Denard has a pretty good instinct of running with the football. It's different.
"You know, he was a centerfielder in high school, seeing the ball off the bat and all those things. You look at the punt game and the kickoff game, he's got that skill level to field balls."
Meanwhile, Hoke fended off repeated questions about Robinson's right arm by simply saying he can throw the football.
"He's doing a great job," Hoke said. "He's throwing the ball well."
That said, Hoke wouldn't touch questions about how he'll use Robinson and junior quarterback Devin Gardner. He does feel both of them have adjusted well to the situation of competing with each other.
"They handled it great," Hoke said. "They are two guys who have been in the same meeting room for a while. They really are good friends, number one. They're different personalities, to some degree. The competition level is what it is at every position."
Either one of them could have a tough time at quarterback if Michigan is unable to run the football, and Hoke noted that hasn't been a strong suit of the Wolverines this year, at least out of the tailback position. That presents a problem, given South Carolina's strong defensive front.
"We've got to block them, number one," Hoke said. "They're very talented, their front seven. They're very athletic. In the game of football, you've got to take care of the football, run the ball and stop the run. If you do those things, it gives you a chance.
"We'll have our hands full. We have not been a team that has run the ball great from the tailback perspective, for multiple reasons. That's going to be a challenge we'll start with. If you can run it, [you have to use] your play-action game."
Plenty of focus will go to the match-up between Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and redshirt junior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan. Hoke acknowledged Lewan, and possibly others, will have their hands full.
Clowney, Hoke noted, possesses the motivation and drive that helps him fulfill his on-field potential.
"Anybody can be blocked one-on-one," Hoke said. "How long you block him is the key. I think the guy plays with a really good motor, or he wouldn't be the player he is. You can have all the talent in the world, and the range, but it's what the guy plays with, motor-wise, and I think he does a nice job of playing with that.
"So whether it's doubling him, or chipping him, or single-blocking him, or play-action and cutting, whatever you want to do, you've got to execute it, and there's got to be a timing presence to all your pass game."
As far as the game itself, Hoke indicated it doesn't matter if Michigan is facing an SEC team, a Big Ten team, or a team from somewhere else. His mind is on those who don't get another opportunity in a winged helmet.
"It matters for our seniors, those guys who have given four and five years, have struggled, had transition, coaching changes and all that," he said. "They've stuck together. We want to make sure as coaches and players that we do everything we can from how we coach the game and how we prepare for the game to send them out the right way."
• Asked about the cast spotted on fifth-year senior offensive lineman Patrick Omameh's hand, Hoke had little to offer, other than to assure he will definitely play in the Outback Bowl.
"He's good," Hoke said. "Just a boo-boo, of some sort."
• Hoke says he likes how the Wolverines have practiced thus far. He also cautioned that's not always the determining factor in Michigan's results.
"I really like how we've taken care of each other," Hoke said. "They've done a good job, practice-wise, with the tempo of practice, they physicalness of practice. The timing from an offensive standpoint has been very positive. It's been good. The assignment and effort to the football defensively has been really good.
"But I felt that way before we went and played Notre Dame, and we turned the ball over six times. The mindset of the team is pretty good. We'll find out how we practice today. When anybody says, 'How you doing today,' it depends on practice. If practice was good, I had a pretty good day. If practice was bad, not such a good day. That's how coaches are."
• Hoke indicated it really doesn't matter to him which South Carolina quarterback plays in the game.
"Not really," he said. "You look at the body of work of the offense. They lost a tremendous running back and were able to put a couple of guys in there that run the ball hard and do a nice job within the offense. Quarterback-wise, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson both are very good quarterbacks.
"In their big rivalry game, they don't have Shaw, and Thompson goes in there and wins a great rivalry game on the road."
• Hoke noted Gardner has grown well in the area of preparation for playing in games.
"I think he's grown up, which is part of being a quarterback at Michigan," Hoke said. "The preparation part of it, from a quarterback perspective, is always a little different. The way he has gone through every week to prepare to play well is something he's taken a lot of pride in."
"It's [work ethic], and it's the extra film time, the extra cut-up time, communicating with his teammates and receivers, all those things."
• The head coach noted he's seen some improvement in Michigan's running backs over the course of bowl practices.
"They've done a good job, in some of the hard runs they've made," Hoke said. "In pass protection, Thomas [Rawls] has gotten to a point where he's a little better in there. Justice [Hayes] has run it well."
• Hoke also commented on his rearranged secondary.
"Courtney [Avery] has played a lot of snaps," Hoke said. "Raymon [Taylor] has gotten better and better every practice, every day. He works diligently at it. Terry Richardson has improved, which is a good thing. Delonte Hollowell has made some strides, and then moving Fleet [freshman Dennis Norfleet] over.
"Fleet has given us another good, physical-type football player at the corner position, and he's quick."
• Ryan continues to progress, Hoke noted. The third-year linebacker is someone Hoke's staff missed on at San Diego State.
"That was a really good assessment of talent, because we didn't recruit him at San Diego State, and had an opportunity to," Hoke said. "He's grown in the position. Greg [Mattison], coaching him on a daily basis
his football instincts have always been there, which you want in all of your players, but his football education is a little better, recognition and all those things.
"You still want him to be unorthodox. He's become a better technician in some of the things you'd like for him to do, but at the same time, he's got an uncanny ability to make a guy miss, get off a block, or not take on a block."
"You can either be the goat or the hero. Right now, he's doing pretty well."
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