Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tate or Denard

Instead of adding to the massive pile of words that already exists on the internet about whether Rich Rodriguez made the right decision putting Denard Robinson in on Michigan's final drive against Iowa, I would prefer to talk about the longterm picture for Robinson and Tate Forcier. As controversial as Saturday's decision was, the one Rodriguez will eventually have to make puts it to shame. For the record, although it seemed like Tate's fourth quarter heroics thus far combined with his ability to throw downfield made him the better choice on the drive in question, Rodriguez was the guy on the sideline and in the huddle. He was more in tune than anyone watching in the stands or on TV. Michigan lost for many reasons and the least was that decision. Plus, Robinson was one progression away from finding Martavious Odoms for a gain to the 50 yard line which would've put Michigan in an excellent position to win. That decision was, no doubt, a difficult one for Rodriguez. However, I think there will be a more difficult decision on the horizon. Barring an injury or a transfer, Rodriguez is going to eventually have to choose between Forcier and Robinson and I don't think the decision is as clear-cut as some might believe.

In 25 years of watching college football, I do not remember a situation when a coach rotated the same two quarterbacks for four consecutive years let alone two or three. There have been plenty of one-year merry-go-rounds. The Old Ball Coach certainly comes to mind. At different times, he alternated Terry Dean and Danny Wuerffel, Doug Johnson and Jesse Palmer, and then Palmer and Rex Grossman. Those were one-year deals. Even Steve Spurrier, the most fickle quarterback switcher in college football history, never used a rotation with the same quarterbacks for more than one year. Unless we're about to witness the most surreal quarterback rotation in college football history, Rich Rodriguez is going to eventually have to pick his guy.

It's amazing that this is even a worthy topic to discuss. In just six weeks, Tate Forcier has become one of the most accomplished true freshman quarterbacks in college football history. He engineered three fourth quarter comebacks in his first five games. He has single-handedly revitalized a Michigan offense that is averaging 14 more points per game over last season. Silly as it seemed, he was even in the Heisman picture and remained there until Rodriguez's fateful final-drive decision on Saturday. There would have to be a one-of-a-kind, transcendent athlete in the picture to even remotely challenge Forcier's apparent stranglehold on Michigan's quarterback position. And, it just so happens that there is. Denard Robinson hasn't led any fourth quarter comebacks. He hasn't played more than a couple possessions in any of Michigan's games. He's a timid passer, has iffy mechanics, and stays in the pocket just slightly longer than it takes to flip a light switch. He is nowhere near Forcier as a quarterback. At least, not yet anyways.

Forcier arrived at Michigan last winter. He graduated early, took advantage of a Nick Sheridan injury, and easily became Michigan's starting quarterback. He had six months on Robinson to learn the playbook and get comfortable with the speed of college football. After seeing Forcier thrive with such inexperience, it is literally painful to imagine his reward being a seat on the bench for the next three years. That possibility seems like an impossibility. However, I'm not so sure it is. Denard Robinson is likely the fastest athlete who has ever played football at the University of Michigan. He is Olympic-level fast. He is faster-than-Ted-Ginn fast. He ran a 10.44 100m in high school and reportedly, but not officially, went as low as 10.28. Robinson may be the fastest quarterback in the history of major college football. In most instances, an unpolished quarterback with that sort of speed would almost certainly be headed for a position switch at the college-level. Rich Rodriguez, however, is not most coaches. In fact, above anyone else in college football, Rodriguez demands speed at the quarterback position. His entire offensive philosophy is based on it. He took a wide receiver named Pat White and made him one of the most prolific quarterbacks to ever play college football. White was fast for a quarterback but he was nowhere near Denard Robinson-fast. If you're a fan of college football, you no doubt have many memories of White running rampant through hapless defenses at West Virginia. Imagine how much more dangerous he would've been with an extra gear. Rodriguez must salivate at the thought of Robinson mastering his offense. All of the practice in the world can't make Tate Forcier as fast as Robinson.

That brings us to the precipice of this discussion: can all of the practice in the world make Denard Robinson as savvy and productive as Forcier? Or, at least, can it make Robinson an effective enough passer that combined with his ability to run, makes him the choice over Forcier? Nobody knows that answer. In fact, its such a mystery that any attempt to predict it would simply be a fruitless endeavor. However, that doesn't mean we can't predict the scenario in which this decision will have to be made. This decision is going to drive Rodriguez crazy. He absolutely cannot go with a four-year quarterback rotation. Even if both quarterbacks were willing to stick around long enough to split snaps for four years, it's hard to imagine such volatility at the quarterback position resulting in the most efficient offense possible. Rodriguez clearly isn't in a hurry to make a decision. He's too busy taking his new and improved wheels for a spin. Michigan will be 5-2 after this weekend. Although Rodriguez clearly wants to win, he will spend the next seven weeks with a keen eye on how his quarterbacks run the offense. He'll get to see more of Robinson in bowl and spring practices than he has in his short Michigan career. That'll be when Rodriguez realizes whether Robinson is destined to be Michigan's Pat White or the next Percy Harvin.

For those who have written off Robinson due to his shakiness as a passer, Forcier's heroics, or a combination of both, look no further than his first drive against Iowa in which he pretty much received the snap and went off-tackle over and over again. He ran the ball eight times for 42 yards including a touchdown. The most impressive aspect of the drive is that Robinson did nearly all of his damage between the tackles. Iowa knew what was coming but was overwhelmed by his his speed and quickness. Imagine what he could accomplish with the space that comes with the understanding of Rodriguez's offense. That space will come if he can learn the offense as well as White did. It must be downright scary for defenses to imagine Robinson as a bona fide dual-threat quarterback. I'm not sure if it's possible to stop a quarterback who can throw with Robinson's speed. Nobody has ever seen it before to know.

This scenario is far from unfolding. Robinson isn't experienced or confident enough for anyone to think that he should be starting ahead of Forcier. Rodriguez and Michigan fans are still soaking up the fact that instant death is no longer the primary skill at the quarterback position. Nobody is in a hurry to make this decision. However, I think there a lot of people out there who have mistakenly dismissed Robinson as a viable candidate. Rodriguez values speed above all at quarterback and it doesn't come any faster than Denard Robinson. This has the makings for an uncomfortable situation. Fans have embraced both. They are a mountain of fresh air for a program that has seen far too much negativity over the past two years. Sometime soon, though, these guys aren't going to be freshmen and Michigan will no longer be content with simply making a bowl game. This is equally uncomfortable and good news for Michigan fans. Nobody wants to see either of these guys riding the bench. However, it's pretty evident that whoever ends up being Rodriguez's choice whenever that choice is made is going to give Michigan an offense that will wreak havoc on opposing defenses. If Robinson becomes a good enough passer that he beats out Forcier, then we could be witness to a truly revolutionary football player. If Forcier becomes a smart enough quarterback that he wards off Robinson's speed, then he'll become a legend at Michigan. The only sure winner in this scenario is the Michigan football program. Plus, there's this guy.


Ottolini said...

What about when Gardner gets on campus?

Ottolini said...

Should have read the last line....I think that's where the money is, personally.


Powered by Blogger