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June 23, 2010

When is the hype too much?

Cameron Gordon will play like Ed Reed this fall; Brian Dawkins if you're not a Baltimore Ravens fan. But why stop there, why not compare the redshirt freshman safety -- yet to play a collegiate down -- to NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott. And while we're at it, let's draw the comparison of Denard Robinson to Pat White ever stronger …

It's called hyperbole and we're all guilty of it. You are. I am. Coaches are, teammates and especially recruiting analysts. It's what we do in sports - we're constantly trying to compare one player to another, always fostering the idea of potential and the promise of something better awaiting next season. It's why the NFL Draft has become the cultural hit of the pro football offseason - optimism for what could be, especially in a landscape in which so much can change so quickly.

But it's also unrealistic. Most of the time. Reed is an eight-year NFL veteran, a five-time Pro Bowler and the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year. Dawkins is a 14-year veteran, including 13 with the Philadelphia Eagles in which he was named to the All-Decade Team for the 2000s. Gordon, in no reality we must live in, will remind anyone of Reed or Dawkins this fall as he begins his starting career (if he can hold off sophomore Vlad Emilien).

Likewise, Robinson is not the next Pat White. Yes, he has blazing speed like White and yes he will quarterback in the same run-option offense White did at West Virginia, under U-M head coach Rich Rodriguez. Sure, they both have cannon arms.

Do they physically share similar attributes? Absolutely. Do they have some other commonalities in place? Uh-uh. But to expect Robinson to replicate White's production in his second season - 2,874 yards passing and 1,219 yards rushing while accounting for 31 total touchdowns - nope, nada, not gonna happen.

So why is Robinson so often compared to White? Because it's easy for high school coaches, recruiting aficionados and reporters looking for a description of his talents and because it's the hopeful wishes of a fan base that wants their player to perform as well as a great.

Again, it's not a bad thing, but it is, more often than not, unrealistic. How many times has a quarterback recruit, who is big and happens to be a dual-threat, been compared to former Texas Longhorns standout Vince Young? How many dual-threat quarterback recruits were there in the Class of 2010 - 35? Well likely at least half of them.

Ohio State junior Terrelle Pryor, perhaps the most closely linked to Young, is no Vince Young. There is only one Vince Young. Just as there is only one Pat White.

So what should you do with all these comparisons? Should you temper expectations for Gordon and Robinson, and every other Wolverine that will be hyped going forward? You should. History teaches us to be careful about building any athlete up too much. From David Underwood to Max Martin to Kevin Grady, each is an indication that potential is a nine-letter word for hasn't accomplished anything (yet).

There is good reason to be excited about both Gordon and Robinson. Michigan's coaches are raving about the two, praising their efforts in the aftermath of spring practices while finding themselves caught up in a world of what could be this fall at the two most important positions defensively and offensively. But they also know better.

They know there will be mistakes and steep learning curves. They know Robinson will misread an option attack or a pass and will be picked off or stopped for no gain when there was opportunity for a big play. They know Gordon will get beat deep and that he will miss tackle or blow a coverage assignment.

But they also believe Gordon and Robinson will be productive players for the Wolverines, at times dazzling with a 40-yard touchdown run or a key interception. They won't expect greatness on every snap, but they do believe each is capable of becoming a great player and that's what everyone else must begin to absorb and come to expect.

There are no perfect players. There are few day-one studs - the Mike Harts of the world the exceptions - but improving players that will show glimpses of excellence with enough moments of frustration.

In their first season as significant contributors, Gordon and Robinson should only be expected to provide more of the first than the second, and as their careers unfold to begin tipping the scales more heavily towards greatness. That's what stars like Brandon Graham and Braylon Edwards accomplished.

But for now, remember expectations are yours and yours alone. Gordon will not be Reed in 2010 just as Robinson will not be White. What they will be, and what you should accept them as, are first-time starters capable of more good plays than bad. Hopefully a lot more.

Michigan NEWS


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