Denard Robinson Must Improve as a Passer to Let Michigan Play for Big Ten Title
Since Denard Robinson came to the Michigan campus in the 2009 recruiting class, he has been the center of attention, and for good reason. He was a 4-star recruit from Rivals and Scout and was ranked in the ESPNU 150. Although he lacked the height of a typical quarterback at 6'0", his blazing speed more than made up for his stature, as he was a perfect fit into Rich Rodriguez's spread offense.
Although Robinson didn't see much of the football field as a true freshman (Tate Forcier started at that time), the following season, he set the college football world upside down.
Not only did Shoelace finish second in the nation with 1,702 yards rushing, but he was a respectable passer as well. He threw for 2,570 yards along with a 62.5 percent completion rate and 18 touchdowns, but had a rather high 11 interceptions.
He would certainly improve as a passer the next season, right? Rich Rodriguez would mold him into the next Pat White, right?
Well, not exactly.
As we all know by now, a change had to be made in Ann Arbor to get Michigan back to its winning tradition. Brady Hoke was hired, and the Wolverines exceeded just about everybody's expectations, going 11-2 and winning the Sugar Bowl his first year.
Unfortunately, the most important player on the football field for the Wolverines, Denard Robinson, regressed heavily as both a passer and a runner from 2010.
He threw for less yards (2,173 vs. 2,570), a worse completion percentage (55.0 vs. 62.5), more interceptions (15 vs. 11), had more sacks despite a more experienced offensive line (13 vs. seven) and ran far less yards (1,176 vs. 1,702).
Don't use Al Borges as a scapegoat. Yes, moving to a pro-style offense can be difficult for some, but most of the plays Michigan ran were from the spread. Borges essentially ran the spread while sprinkling in some pro-style plays here and there.
Here's how Denard Robinson can improve himself in his final year as a Michigan Wolverine.
Cut Down the Interceptions
Brady Hoke has stressed from the time he started that they MUST win the turnover battle. The Wolverines were much more successful than the 2010 season with a plus-seven turnover margin, mainly due to how much more aggressive the defense was.
If the Michigan Wolverines are going to win the Big Ten next year, Shoelace must make some significant progress in limiting his interception total.
Denard will need to get his interception total into the single digits for 2012, as this will help win the turnover battle against other teams, especially in Big Ten play.
His 11 interceptions were high his sophomore year, but the 15 picks (which ranked sixth highest in the country) this past season are simply unacceptable.
Make Better Decisions in the Pocket
Check out the video on this slide.
Shoelace needs to resist throwing into double and triple coverage. On too many occasions, if Denard was in trouble, he'd throw a jump ball hoping that one of his tall receivers would come down and possess the football. Sometimes, the receiver would catch it (for example, Junior Hemingway in the Sugar Bowl), while other times, the football would fall into the hands of an opposing player (see the video in this slide).
If there's no open receiver, Denard must simply throw the ball away or run the football. He also needs to understand that throwing off of his back foot leads to a position of weakness and decreased accuracy. By planting the back foot, any quarterback will increase the confidence in his throw to a receiver.
He must work on these issues in the offseason.
Al Borges Must Continue to Make Adjustments to His Playbook
Brady Hoke and Al Borges didn't try to make Denard a pocket passer. They wanted to mold the existing playbook to suit his strengths.
For the most part, Borges was successful doing this. But there's more he can do to ensure less turnovers.
Next season, Borges should have Shoelace throw more slant routes and screen passes that include three-step drops to throw off opposing defenses. These types of passes are high percentage throws that will get the wide receivers more involved and increase the confidence of Denard early. They're also extremely effective against high blitzing schemes like Michigan State.
Once the safeties play near or at the line of scrimmage, then more intermediate passes can be thrown, and it's much more effective this way.
Get Better Production from the Wide Receivers
Denard can lead more effectively by getting the best production possible from his wide receivers.
While Jeremy Gallon emerged as a threat in the slot and tight-end, Kevin Koger had his best year, Roy Roundtree's catch total plummeted from 72 receptions in 2010 to just 19 this past season.
Martavious Odoms dropped off the face of the planet, while Jeremy Jackson was expected to catch more than just three balls all year.
Perhaps most frustrating was the number of dropped passes throughout the season. While I was unable to find any hard statistics for dropped passes in college football, many of you may recall an inordinate amount of mental lapses by the wide receivers in 2011.
With Darryl Stonum getting kicked off the team and Junior Hemingway graduating, the incoming freshmen and upperclassmen alike must emerge as go-to receivers for Denard to assist him as much as possible.
The Future Looks Positive
As a passer, most fans believe next season Denard Robinson will be better than he was during his sophomore year.
With the continued tutelage from Al Borges, Denard will be able to decrease his interceptions, be smarter in the pocket with his throws, make safer passes that will confuse defenses and get the most out of his existing receivers as possible.
There's work to be done before Sept. 1 against Alabama, but if No. 16 continues to progress as a passer, there will be very few limitations when the Wolverines reach Arlington, Tex. For the rest of the Big Ten, that will scare them most of all.