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Michigan QB coach happy with Forcier's progress

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

They aren't the words Michigan fans want to hear right now, but Wolverines quarterbacks coach Rod Smith refuses to sidestep the facts.

"We basically are starting over," Smith said, "because you've got really one kid with experience, and he's got a broken leg right now. And the other kid you've got signed isn't even here. Tate's got a hell of a reputation that he created in high school. That's got to translate to the college level, and there's no guarantees that happens."

The kid with experience, former walk-on Nick Sheridan, is shelved for the rest of spring practice after fracturing a small bone in his right leg March 24. The kid who isn't there, Denard Robinson, is finishing his senior year of high school in Florida while conducting distance learning with Smith over the phone.

And the aforementioned Tate, true freshman Robert "Tate" Forcier, is taking most of the snaps with the first team offense in practice just months after enrolling early at Michigan.

"He's been thrown in the fire," Smith said. "It's such a juggle for him because here's a guy who should be at the prom here in another month, and he's here, going through college football just like the other guys are. But I've been pleased with him so far."

The quarterback landscape this spring looks vastly different than what Smith and head coach Rich Rodriguez had envisioned only months ago.

Steven Threet, who started eight games last fall, transferred from the program in February. Sheridan, the Wolverines' other insurance policy, had made obvious progress, according to Smith, before the injury.

Many felt the starting job would eventually come down to Forcier and Robinson, dual-threat quarterbacks recruited to run Rodriguez's system, but circumstances have put Forcier in the spotlight ahead of schedule. After a 3-9 season, Michigan doesn't have time for hand-holding -- "We don't have patience," Smith said -- so every practice is sink or swim for the young Californian.

"There's a lot of times when he's out there in a storm, and he's got no direction," Smith said. "It's a lot on his plate, it really is. But we're doing that on purpose. We'll give him the whole thing and we'll go back and re-teach it, bit by bit, put it all back together for him. At times, he gets confused. At times, he's unsure.

"But the positive part of that is the kid just keeps making plays in practice."

Forcier's natural talents, which helped him rack up 35 touchdowns (23 rush, 12 pass) as a high school senior, have been as advertised. Smith likes his polished throwing mechanics -- "He's got a tight delivery, quick release, everything is nice and compact, it's out in a hurry and the kid's very accurate" -- and his willingness to study tape and prepare for practices.

The mental challenge of digesting Rodriguez's offense has been overwhelming at times, but Forcier should provide an ability to improvise in a way that neither Threet nor Sheridan could last season.

"He just seems to find people," Smith said. "Sometimes, you can't teach that. ... He understands when to step up, understands how to feel pressure, his eyes are always working forward even when he takes off. He's got a good feel, he really does, and that's important for that position."

Size is an issue for Forcier, who checks in at about 6-feet and 185 pounds. Smith would like the freshman to add about 15 pounds before the season, which could come in the weight room, a place Forcier didn't visit much in high school.

"He's not your prototypical size, obviously," Smith said, "but the intangibles that he carries gives him a chance to play."

Robinson also will have a chance to play plenty, despite his late arrival to the party. Similar in size to Forcier, Robinson will be Michigan's fastest quarterback after running the 100-meter dash in 10.44 seconds at a recent track meet.

Smith is trying to fast-track Robinson by keeping him patched in to all the happenings at spring ball. The two talk almost every day, usually for 1-2 hours.

"I'd hate to see his phone bill, I hope he's got free minutes," Smith said. "We're trying to keep him up to speed mentally as much as possible. Everything that we do up here in the spring we're giving to him, so that way, when he gets here in the summer, he's not behind mentally."

Smith doesn't expect to decide on a starter until well into fall camp. As was the case last year with Threet and Sheridan, the decision could come down hours before the opener Sept. 5 against Western Michigan.

Sheridan, who Smith said looked "much more comfortable" before his injury, will be back in the mix along with Robinson. But Forcier has the rest of the spring to absorb the system and impress the coaches.

"The Day 1 installation, the Day 2 installation, he's just swimming," Smith said. "We'll come back the next day, and he's got it. He studies it and it's so important to him. He understands how you have to prepare. I really love his mental approach to the game.

"If he keeps progressing like he has, hopefully we have some things we can rely on going into the summer, but obviously the summer's going to become huge going into fall camp."