Denard Robinson has new look
CHICAGO -- Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will look different to Big Ten fans this season.
No, he didn't cut his dreadlocks. They'll still be flapping out the back of his helmet as he sprints past defenders.
And, no, he's not about to start tying his shoelaces.
The big difference between Robinson this year and last, when he was the most prolific offensive player in Michigan history, is where he'll be lining up.
Instead of taking almost every snap out of the shotgun, the way he did in former coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, Robinson will spend much of his time right behind center as Michigan returns to a pro-style scheme under new coach Brady Hoke.
"It reminded me of being back in high school," Robinson said Friday, Day 2 of the Big Ten media days. "It was kind of cool."
Hoke is not about to confine Robinson to the pocket, though there are no doubt plenty of defensive coordinators that would sleep better if he would. In fact, Robinson will be one of several Big Ten quarterbacks capable of beating teams passing and running.
At Northwestern, Dan Persa returns from a torn Achilles tendon to direct the Wildcats' spread attack.
Without all the fanfare Robinson received, Persa was one of the best quarterbacks in the country last season. He led the nation in completion percentage at 73.5 percent and finished ninth in the country in total offense at 310 yards per game, including 51.9 yards rushing.
"I think looking back on last year I think I ran too much," said Persa, who ran 164 times in 10 games before getting hurt. "I'm kind of looking at this injury as kind of a blessing in disguise to improve on the things I want to improve on in the pocket."
Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois was sort of a light version of Robinson, passing for 1,825 yards and rushing for 868 more.
Nebraska sophomore Taylor Martinez might be even the faster than Robinson, though he struggled at the end of last season after putting together a spectacular first half.
And at Minnesota, new coach Jerry Kill is putting his diverse spread attack in the hands of MarQueis Gray, who has been moved back to quarterback from wide receiver, much to the delight of many Gophers fans who believe they might have another Robinson.
The player known as "Shoelace" quickly became a national sensation in his first season as a starter, with his breathtaking runs and record-breaking numbers.
He set a school record for total offense in his first start, putting up 383 yards (197 rushing) against Connecticut, and then topped that the next week with 502 yards in a victory at Notre Dame.
When the season was over, Robinson was the first player in NCAA history to reach 2,500 yards passing and 1,500 yards rushing in a single season.
But as the year wore on, the hits took a toll on the 6-foot, 193-pound Robinson, who had to deal with a variety of injuries. And despite all the yards and points Michigan's offense produced, it often wasn't enough to offset a defense that was one of the worst in the country and one of the worst in school history.
In three years under Rodriguez, Michigan's offense made progress, but its defense was never any better than bad.
Hoke, a former Michigan defensive line coach who was hired away from San Diego State, is hoping that a change in the offensive scheme will help the Wolverines' defense.
"Being in a system where you, as a defensive lineman, have to play combination blocks, double-teams, it teaches you, No. 1, how to play the blocks and it teaches a toughness that it takes to play those blocks," he said.
The new offense is a lot like what he ran in high school, Robinson said. In fact, he says not until his senior season did he become a shotgun quarterback.
The biggest challenge has been working on the footwork necessary to drop back and set up in the pocket, including eliminating his tendency to bounce.
"That was natural just to bounce instead of stepping up into the pocket," he said. "That was a big thing I have to work on. Just getting my feet underneath me."
New offensive coordinator Al Borges has said the shotgun still will be a part of Michigan's offense and there will be plays designed to get Robinson running.
As long as Robinson doesn't look slower, Wolverines fans surely won't mind.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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