J.R. was an exciting young quarterback who played for Michigan State from 1965-67. In 1965, his team was undefeated at 10-0 and won the Big 10 title, only to lose in the Rose Bowl to UCLA in a surprising upset. Undaunted, J.R. came back the next season and led his team to another undefeated seasonal record and faced equally undefeated Notre Dame in the final game of the season. That game ended in a 10-10 tie, with both teams being considered co-National champions.
This was a great accomplishment for a young quarterback, especially given the fact that he was black. It was a very rare sight to see a black quarterback in those days. In fact, once drafted by the NFL, they were inevitably switched to the "skill positions", either wide receiver or in the defensive secondary. So, upon being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams and then traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, J.R. saw any hopes of his being an NFL quarterback dashed by the political climate of the times.
We now flash forward to 2009. J.R. is now 62 years old and has been coaching in the NFL for 32 years. He worked for several years under Marty Schottenheimer, and also gained experience working for Norv Turner, John Robinson, Herm Edwards and Eric Mangini. Now, as his career winds down, he finds himself with a tremendous opportunity to develop and create an offensive machine under San Francisco 49er coach Mike Singletary. And this is where we come to the other quarterback . . . Michael Robinson.
Like his new Offensive Coordinator, Michael Robinson, led his team to the Big 10 Championship. MRob as he is affectionately called, is a 6-1, 228 lb. powerhouse whom Penn State coach Joe Paterno referred to as "the greatest athlete I have coached in my 55 years at Penn State".
At Penn State, MRob was a standout on a losing team. He was used mostly as a wide receiver, but also played a little halfback and a short time at quarterback prior to his senior year. It was then that Paterno made a dramatic move and inserted Michael, who had never really played the position before, as his quarterback for his senior year. Robinson responded by leading his team to an 11-1 record, winning the Big 10 title and a victory in the Orange Bowl, and being named Big 10 Offensive Player of the Year. He threw for 17 TDs and ran for 8 more.
Throughout his career in college, he ran for 1,637 yards, caught 52 passes for 629 yards, threw for 3,575 yards and accounted, either by passing, throwing or running for 46 touchdowns. He was also their best player on special teams.
So, upon being drafted by the 49ers and despite his plea to be given an opportunity to at least try out for quarterback, Michael was put on ice by Mike Nolan who expressed his unwillingness to allow most rookies to even play with the classic statement: "Young players play young". So, Michael has been a standout on special teams and has made a few memorable plays, despite being overlooked and woefully mishandled.
Now we flash forward to today, 2009. Mike Singletary led the Niners to 5 wins in their final 7 games last season and has added enough quality players to make them serious contenders for the NFC West this season. Their defense finished #7 the second half of the season under Singletary and is expected to be very tough this season so the emphasis will be on the offense.
Unlike Mike Martz, whose stubborn insistence upon using a 7-step drop and abandoning the run in the second half cost the 49ers two games and a playoff spot last season, Jimmy Raye utilizes the talents of his players and designs the offense around them. Unlike previous seasons, the Niners are now deep at the wide receiver position and at running back and have improved their offensive line depth.
Quarterback will be the vastly underrated Shaun Hill, whose game management and leadership skills have inspired not only the fans but his offensive linemen as well. So where does that put Michael Robinson? Having an Offensive Coordinator who was also a black quarterback shunned by the system and not given an opportunity to follow his dreams, presents and interesting situation.
There is no question of MRob's value to the 49ers. He is their best tackler on special teams and is the special teams captain. On the return side, his blocks were instrumental in Alan Rossum's TD returns last season. Last year, Singletary began using MRob as a receiver at the end of the season and his great leaping catch against the Redskins was instrumental in setting up the victory. MRob quietly caught 17 passes for 201 yards and an 11.9 yards per catch. Compare that to Reggie Bush or Brian Westbrook who averaged only 7.5 yards per catch. Michael's a real weapon on the receiving end of a pass.
But now back to quarterback. Since the Miami Dolphins introduced the Wildcat offense with some success last season, many teams experimented with it including the 49ers. Michael, at 6'1" and 228 lbs., has the passing and running ability that is perfect for this formation, and it is our bet that Jimmy Raye is already designing plays using the Wildcat formation with Michael in mind. As he does so, he may be thinking back to might what have been had he himself been given the opportunity to take the snap from center in the pros.
If Jimmy's dreams were curtailed by politics, I can't see him denying those same dreams of Michael Robinson, even if it only means playing QB in the Wildcat formation. It will be very interesting to watch this situation develop.
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