October 31, 2012

Mailbag: On Robinson, QBs

It's an Ultra Mailbag, which is better than an Ulna Mailbag, the sort we have to type out left-handed (or have somebody else handle, meaning the publisher gets ripped all week). Anyway, here goes…

With Denard Robinson less than 100 percent, there's a chance he has to exit Saturday's game against Minnesota. If that were to occur, would you expect to see Russell Bellomy or Devin Gardner enter the game at quarterback? And does last weekend's struggles change the opinion of where Gardner ends up offensively in 2013?

You can look at it two ways, with full knowledge that an 11 a.m. game in Minneapolis isn't as tough as an 8 p.m. showdown at Nebraska. You could either let Bellomy get right back on the horse and build back some confidence, or see what Gardner is able to do in that situation.

I'm sure Michigan's coaches want to see them practice for another couple of days, see how the backups are picking up the game plan, executing, etc. If I had to guess, I'd guess they'd give Gardner a shot if Robinson goes down, having expended significant practice time to let him take snaps there.

We've said all along, Gardner wants to play quarterback. He intends to compete for the job once spring rolls around, and he should get that opportunity. He would have to be the clear winner of that race to take the reins, and then hold off Shane Morris as well.

I've been consistent in saying I don't think Gardner will wind up at quarterback next fall. But with Morris' down time this fall and the development he needs, combined with Bellomy's struggles under the bright lights, a Gardner challenge certainly can't be ruled out.

In two-plus quarters without Denard Robinson last weekend, Michigan generated 44 yards of offense. Yikes. Has Robinson these past two years masked what is a growing concern - that U-M doesn't have the offensive talent otherwise to be effective? And was the Wolverines' performance without an ominous sign for what to expect in 2013?

Michigan experienced a season not so long ago featuring the following at wide receiver: Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant and Steve Breaston, a trio of future NFL performers. Do they have that luxury right now? You decide.

The Wolverines have struggled to generate a running attack outside of Robinson, with uneven performances by their offensive line and the most productive running back managing 321 yards through eight games. In other words, Robinson makes this show go.

Brady Hoke's crew is looking to install a mashing offensive line in the not-so-distant future, with running backs that can pound the football and strong wideouts that a pro-style quarterback can connect with on timing routes. Will all of that be tough to get done in 2013? No question.

Michigan might be looking at a Michigan State 2012 type of season - very strong defense, and an offense trying to grow and score enough points to win some close ones.

It seems every time Michigan plays Minnesota, the impact of The Little Brown Jug fades even more. Are trophies even relevant in college football anymore during this era where talk is about the BCS, the BCS, the BCS (soon to be college football playoff)?

Ask Glen Mason if the Little Brown Jug was relevant a few years back. It was celebrated, put in a place of honor, and shown off constantly for a year.

The problem is at this end, when the jug's gone missing only three times since 1967, folks kind of get used to it being around. Very few Michigan fans even remember the powerhouse Minnesota teams in the first half of the last century (including ones that, at one point, beat Michigan nine straight times).

See how the trophy is received if it gets away on Saturday, if you genuinely wonder about its relevance.

Quite a few posters on The Fort were disappointed offensive coordinator Al Borges did not accept blame for last week's loss to Nebraska as Greg Mattison has done in the past. Where do you fall on the accountability argument? Does Borges need to offer some sort of apology or not?

Let's talk about Press Conference 101. Some folks love bluntness, honestly and quote-ability from coaches. But if they're upset about a loss, they'll pick apart any of that. They usually just want a coach to say, "It's all my fault. Blame me."

That holds even if the coach doesn't really believe it. Borges (and Michigan's offensive staff as a whole) went into the Nebraska game with a plan, which was working until they lost the kid they absolutely couldn't lose. If Robinson doesn't go down, Michigan heads into the halftime locker room up 10-7, having controlled the football for more than 21 minutes of the first half. Nebraska's defense wouldn't have held out very long in the second half against that continued attack.

The OC ticked some off by insisting redshirt freshman Bellomy was prepared to play, but what does that really mean? It means Bellomy knew the game plan, had been prepped for every NU defensive tendency, and had gotten enough snaps to know exactly what the Wolverines wanted to accomplish on offense.

It does not mean a rookie QB was prepared to go in and dominate or even lift the Wolverines to a win, any more than Tom Brady taking over in his fourth year in the program meant he'd beat Notre Dame and Syracuse in his first two starts. (And no, that doesn't mean Bellomy is headed for three Super Bowls).

Borges is saying what he thinks, for the most part. If he wouldn't change the plan in hindsight, he wouldn't change it. If he thought Bellomy has been prepared, he'll say so. Nobody has to agree, and nobody's happy after a loss, but if people want honest answers (instead of just somebody to blame), that's the price.

In your opinion is Jake Ryan Michigan's best linebacker since David Harris in 2006?

I'd say so, and he's arrived at that stage much earlier in his career than Harris did. If you'll recall, Harris developed slowly at first, then really came on at the end.

Ryan, meanwhile, could have another full two years in a Michigan uniform after this one, and he's already an impact performer every time he steps onto the field. Ryan could put in a full four seasons under Greg Mattison and this defensive coaching staff, and the finished product would be something to see.

What type of production does John Beilein need from freshman forward Mitch McGary this season for the Maize and Blue to repeat as Big Ten champs and emerge a legitimate Final Four contender?

That's impossible to answer, because Michigan has so much versatility. Suppose McGary gave minimal output, but a lineup of Jordan Morgan, Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Nik Stauskas and Trey Burke tore it up, with players like Jon Horford, Matt Vogrich and Caris LeVert supplying muscle and firepower off the bench?

That's not to say McGary won't be a big plus. It is emphasizing the fact that the Wolverines won't live or die with McGary, by any means.

If he's able to stay healthy and become a solid 8-8 (eight points, eight rebounds) performer for the Wolverines, that would be a good start.

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