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Thursday, June 9, 2011
Dual threats look to imitate Newton

By Gil Bransford and Ben Lerner

This is the third of three posts breaking down quarterbacks who will likely be Heisman Trophy contenders in 2011. See also our posts on pro-style quarterbacks and spread-offense quarterbacks.

Cam Newton won the Heisman last year after being equally effective with his arm and his legs. In 2011, two promising Heisman candidates can beat opponents both on the ground and in the air.

Denard Robinson, Michigan Wolverines
Ranking fourth in FBS with 4,272 yards from scrimmage, Denard Robinson had a stellar sophomore campaign and was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

His best attribute is his athleticism. Robinson rushed for more than 100 yards nine times last season and led the nation with 55 rushes of at least 10 yards. Robinson’s ability to make plays with his legs forced defenses to focus on his running, which helped Robinson’s downfield passing after a play-action fake.

He completed passes at a nearly 50 percent higher rate when using play action, threw only one interception, and put up a pass efficiency rating of 239.7.

Robinson ran the ball 256 times last season, and that eventually taxed his body, forcing him to miss significant time last season with headaches and injuries to his knee and shoulder.

He ran both inside and outside the tackles, but running inside meant meeting up with big interior lineman. That was part of the reason his production dropped over the course of a game, falling from 8.3 yards per rush in the first half of games to 4.5 in the second.

With a new system under new coach Brady Hoke, Robinson's role is unknown, but he will have to finish the season better to be a legitimate Heisman candidate. Robinson and the Wolverines lost six of their last eight in 2010, including losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State by a combined 50 points. If Michigan’s defense can improve and Robinson can stay healthy, it may be a big year in Ann Arbor.

Darron Thomas, Oregon Ducks
Darron Thomas is a prototypical dual-threat quarterback who will put up big numbers this season -- both on the ground and through the air.

Oregon’s offense moves quickly and produces big plays, which will help Thomas put up impressive numbers. Last season, the Ducks scored 45 touchdowns on drives that lasted fewer than two minutes, and scored 29 touchdowns that were 20 yards or longer. Both numbers were FBS bests.

Oregon is again likely to put up long touchdowns all season, but in order for Thomas to become a contender for the Heisman, he will have to be the focal point in Oregon’s highlight-reel offense.

With LaMichael James in the backfield, Thomas could be overshadowed by his own teammate. James has more 30-yard rushes that any other player over the last two seasons. While James was breaking long rushes last season, Thomas was struggling to complete long throws. In Oregon’s last four games, Thomas completed just 6-of-21 passes thrown 15 yards or more down field. If Thomas can’t complete long throws, he may not be able to muster the buzz needed to make it to New York.

Overall, Thomas has the talent to put up big numbers, but he will truly have to wow voters to step beyond the shadow of James.