The Wolverine

May 2012

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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WOLVERINE WATCH JOHN BORTON H No. 16 Holds The Key To A Title Run opeful Michigan fans braved threatening weather, $4-a-gal- lon gas and the scramble for parking to get a glimpse of Michi- gan's spring game. But the biggest piece of a Big Ten championship puzzle wasn't on display. Senior quarterback Denard Rob- inson took a half-dozen snaps, then called it an afternoon in front of an estimated 25,000 at Michigan Sta- dium. Fifth-year senior walk-on Jack Kennedy got as much run behind center as No. 16, and as the other Lloyd (Bentsen) might say: "He's no Denard Robinson." But those watching from the stands or on the Big Ten Network need not worry. Michigan's coaches saw plenty of Robinson this spring. If what they witnessed translates from spring to fall, the Wolverines will want to keep Dec. 1 open on their calendars. That's when the Legends and Leaders Division winners tee it up at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapo- lis to decide the Big Ten champion. Guaranteed, Brady Hoke hasn't made dinner plans for that evening. Hoke grumbled about Michigan's Cutting down on interceptions was a point rebuilt front defensive wall after the spring game. It's too soft in the mid- dle, he insisted. From all indications last year, Hoke, defensive coordina- tor Greg Mattison and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery will harden it up before the Wolverines take on Alabama. U-M already has the running game for a sprint to Indy. Two 1,000- yard rushers from 2011 in Robinson and redshirt junior Fitzgerald Tous- saint could certainly repeat those grand performances, behind a vet- eran offensive line. The single greatest barrier to Michigan's first Big Ten title since 2004, without question, involves turnovers. Robinson made it his mission this spring to push the pick- offs out of his game. He threw 15 of them last year, in- cluding crucial ones in Michigan's only two losses. He spoke about in- terceptions this spring like his offen- sive linemen speak of Jenny Craig. Robinson knows what stands 8 THE WOLVERINE MAY 2012 between him and a Big Ten cham- pionship in his final season behind center. He devoted his entire winter to doing something about it. From endless video sessions on his own time, to drills with his wide receivers, to the behind-closed- doors crucible of spring practice, Robinson worked to become Secret Service to a pigskin President. Ac- cording to witnesses, it paid off. "My biggest progress was making the right reads and not throwing off my back foot," Robinson said. "Throwing off my back foot was the biggest part of the reason for me throwing interceptions last year. I probably threw one time off my back foot all spring, because of a blitz coming at me." That solitary misstep aside, Rob- inson sounded excited about his strides. He wasn't alone. "The two things that have gone away in Denard's game are falling off throws, or throwing off your back foot," Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges confirmed. "Number two is, indiscriminate decision making. He had very, very few interceptions this spring. "He cut his interceptions from last spring to this spring four times — four times less interceptions. That's not unusual, now, for a guy that understands the offense. I said of emphasis for Denard Robinson this spring. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL it last year. Our passing game was a drastic disparity from what they had done here in the past, and there were going to be growing pains." But bear in mind, Borges stressed, they don't hand out any Big Ten tro- phies for spring accomplishments. "Now, we've got to take the step into the fall," Borges cautioned. "It's all irrelevant if you don't. But his awareness of our passing game has enhanced immeasurably." That last statement alone will inject a championship-level tingle into the spines of those ready to see the Wolverines reassume their his- torical rightful place in the Big Ten. Robinson, for all his jaw-dropping statistics, beloved presence and highlight-reel place in Michigan football history, desperately desires a title in his final try. He can sense changes that could get the Wolverines there. "It's like day and night," he said. "It's a big difference. You've been in the offense a year. You're used to everything. Last spring, we were doing a lot of learning. This spring, we're on the run right now. We're sped up. The pace is coming faster. "I'm learning how to get into the fight, like Coach Borges is always saying. Getting into the fight means pushing the pocket, hitching up into the pocket and still looking down- field, getting under the rush." If Robinson gets into it well enough, the fight just might wind up in Indy. Michigan's excitement won't end when they pack away the pigskins. The Wolverines haven't won foot- ball and basketball Big Ten cham- pionships in the same school year since 1986. With the return of point guard Trey Burke to head coach John Beilein's roster, they've got a legitimate chance to do so. Robinson will no doubt reappear in the Maize Rage next winter, hoping to eventu- ally compare rings. ❑ *** Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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