April 18, 2012

Borton's Blog: Hunger games

Night and day. That's how Denard Robinson describes his own advancement this spring, in terms of reading defensives, stepping up in the pocket, cutting down on interceptions, etc. But the senior quarterback has other reasons to be excited.

First, though, a disclaimer. No player we know of has come to the end of spring football and told the press: "I think I regressed over the past month. I'm throwing worse, can't figure out what to do against certain blitzes, and to be honest, I'm chucking it to the defense as much as my guys."

So basically, upbeat represents the tone of the day. Finding ways to confirm the positive take enhances its credibility.

Robinson has always been one of his harshest critics. He came into spring football declaring he needed to take care of the ball much better, and came out of it insisting he had. Offensive coordinator Al Borges backed that talk, noting the senior QB tossed one-quarter the interceptions he did last spring.

Robinson cited specifics as well, indicating he remembered throwing off his back foot - a major contributor to hanging passes and interceptions last season - just once this spring. Borges again confirmed, and that's more than just general "all is well" palaver. It's a very measurable, identifiable area of progress.

Borges also stayed blunt about what it means - nothing, unless carried into the fall. But given the progress made, there's no reason that should not happen.

Robinson and his receivers, including a couple of new ones coming in this summer, have several months to make sure the timing and mechanics on throws becomes a strength this fall. The senior himself will continue to study what defenses did to him last season, and understand better how to answer.

But No. 16 is also thinking beyond himself and his pass catchers. He's taking a whole-team view of the situation, just like he did last year. He saw what Michigan's seniors did in preparing a team for an 11-2, Sugar Bowl champion season.

He's determined that this year's seniors won't miss a step in that process.

"That's the biggest thing," Robinson insisted. "We've got to lead, not only on the field but off the field. We've got to make sure everybody is accountable for what we need to do.

"I was a part with those seniors [last year], knocking on people's doors and trying to get everybody to make sure they get into workouts, get into the 7-on-7s. We need everybody. It's a team sport. It's not just about one guy."

Robinson saw such commitment played out in many ways last year, from the leadership of the seniors to the good attitudes of those that could have gone another direction. Fifth-year senior receiver Roy Roundtree, for instance, saw his numbers slashed dramatically as the offense changed and everyone adjusted.

Players and coaches alike insist Roundtree stayed steady, didn't pout, and delivered when called upon, like catching the game-winner against Notre Dame. This spring, Roundtree - like Robinson, fifth-year senior Jordan Kovacs, and several other seniors - has been cited as an outstanding leader.

"Roy showed me he can play wherever they put him, whether it's in the slot or out wide," Robinson said. "He's a guy that goes to the ball, and goes with intensity, 110 percent every time. He doesn't expect the ball all the time. He just expects to be out there doing whatever it takes to do to help the team.

"This is our third year in the offense, that I'm throwing to him. He's one of the guys that keeps the team together. When everything is going bad, he's going to tell everybody, 'Look, your next play is your best play.' He always tells me that.

"Even if I have a bad throw to him, he'll tell me: 'Your next play is your best play.' Even last year, when he didn't have as many catches as he had the year before, he talked to me. He told me, 'As long as we're winning, that's the only thing that counts to me.'"

Winning counts immeasurably for a group of seniors that went from deep struggles to last year's leap forward. That crew wants to finish the job with a Big Ten championship.

There are a few hurdles to be cleared first. The initial one - a showdown with defending national champion Alabama in Dallas -- will provide all the motivation needed for honing the Wolverines' craft throughout the summer months.

"Everybody is motivated," Robinson said. "Everybody wants to get better. Everybody wants to see the field. In Dallas, you want to be on the field, too. You want to make your family proud. Everybody's hungry, and everybody wants to eat."

The senior quarterback hopes to keep the "Hunger Games" a blockbuster right into the fall.

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