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April 21, 2010

Robinson or Forcier? BTN analysts weigh in

Everyone has an opinion: Denard Robinson or Tate Forcier. The Fort is almost split 50-50, with Forcier pulling in 49.8 percent of votes and Robinson 48.1 percent. Even our own staff went 3-2 (in favor of Forcier). Big Ten Network analysts Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith also have an opinion …

The Big Ten Network analysts were at a practice earlier this spring, watching the competition unfold before their eyes while sitting down with coaches and players to garner progress from the Wolverines. BTN also broadcast Saturday's spring game, giving its analysts plenty of content from which to pull their opinions.

For DiNardo, it's an easy choice.

"I think it has to be Denard Robinson," he said. "If you think about the way Rich Rodriguez became so successful at West Virginia it wasn't with a drop-back quarterback that threw 50 times, even though that approached worked for him some as an offensive coordinator. He wants to play the game that Denard plays, with a greater emphasis on the running attack than the passing attack.

"He wants to have that guy that can tuck the ball and make you miss even when the blocking isn't perfect, that can make you miss even if he misreads the read-option, and from everything I've seen, Denard Robinson is that guy.

"In college football nowadays, defenses, as much as they try to practice this, cannot tackle in space. From the earliest age, you're not coached to tackle one-on-one without help. The instruction is always about rallying to the ball and then for your defensive backs to use the sideline as their friend. But when you're stuck in a one-on-one situation, against an athlete like Denard Robinson, most of the time you're going to be left grasping for air.

"So when I see what he can do, and then I see what Forcier did last year - to me there is no comparison for where this offense wants to go."

Robinson rushed for 32 yards and a touchdown on six carries (5.3 yards per carry) in Michigan's spring game and would have hard far better numbers if the whistle didn't blow every time a defender approached him. Perhaps, more impressively, though, Robinson completed 9 of 12 pass attempts (75.0 percent) for 170 yards and three scores. It's probably too early, however, to say he's arrived as a passer.

"I don't think you can evaluate his progress until the season because in a spring game you have first-string offense versus the second-string defense, you're playing in front of half a stadium and the defense isn't blitzing," DiNardo said. "So I'll reserve judgment, but he doesn't have to be a great passer to make an impact every week. He has to be adequate and I think he's talented enough to be at least average, and then he could really surprise us there."

While Griffith agrees with his colleague that the real test comes Sept. 4, he sees a much-improved passer.

"I think he's made impressive strides as a passer," Griffith said. "He looks more comfortable running the offense, commanding the huddle. I walked away from our opportunities to watch him practice saying, 'Wow, this guy is pretty good.'

"I'll qualify my opinion that he is a passer with this - when I watched him last summer in 7-on-7 drills and then saw him throwing the football last season, and now I see him, his mechanics have improved dramatically, his accuracy is better and he's making smarter decisions with the football.

"How he plays on Saturdays will determine if he's the starter for one week or for the entire year, and you can't substitute the experience Tate Forcier has as a 12-game starter. But if you give these two kids equal reps in the fall and put them in as many scrimmage situations as possible before the first game, I think you'll really see Robinson blossom as a passer, and he already has the ability to run."

If Robinson does, in fact, start and play the majority of the snaps in 2010, where does that leave Forcier?

"That's a tough question and I don't know the answer," DiNardo said. "Only Tate can answer that if that happens.

"But I think what recent history is showing us is that there are no legitimate second-string quarterbacks in the Big Ten, or in college football, anymore. Everybody wants to play and no one has the patience to wait their turn or to persevere through challenges.

"I think two years ago, when Ryan Mallett left Michigan, we had six quarterbacks in the Big Ten transfer. This fall, Pat Devlin should be a fifth-year senior starting for Penn State but he got beat out two years ago by Daryll Clark and left for a guaranteed opportunity. The same thing happened at Ohio State when Terrelle Pryor arrived.

"The second-string quarterback is becoming extinct in college football, and if Robinson is the guy and [freshman] Devin Gardner is the heir apparent … "

Griffith, though, isn't ready to call this one completely in Robinson's favor, giving Forcier a chance to reclaim his job.

"I think Tate has something special about him and he hasn't lost that 'it' quality," Griffith said. "He will continue to grow as a player, and we know he's competitive so his time to shine probably isn't up.

"But I think when you talk about ceilings and potential, Robinson's is higher. He's a player that when things break down can go all the way because he has that speed and quickness that maybe three or four guys in the entire Big Ten can match. He's tougher to defend.

"If I'm a Big Ten defensive coordinator, I'd rather see Forcier because I don't have to worry as much about him taking off. We saw that he could run some, but not like Denard. And now it's just up to Denard to make good decisions with the football as a runner, but especially as a passer."


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