Denard and scrambling

Submitted by GratefulBlue on February 7th, 2011 at 9:55 AM


This began as a reply to Misopogon's post, but I thought it warranted some Board banter.

One of my biggest frustrations last year was Denard's unwillingness to tuck the ball and run on designed pass plays. Some people seem to be putting that on Denard, but I don't think that's accurate. Rich Rod was an avowed control freak and didn't seem to tolerate any deviation from his schemes or play calls. Did we ever see one of our quarterbacks audible during RR's tenure? I feel like Rich even said something about this a few years back, along the lines of, "If we execute, we don't need to audible."

Denard is such a lethal runner, he should have been taught to take off as soon as his first and second reads weren't wide open. But it seemed like our coaches were telling DR that "If it's a pass play, you're passing. End of story." Doesn't make sense to me, but if the coaches were giving DR the green light to scramble, we would have seen that happen more often as the season progressed and Denard became more comfortable in the pocket. Instead we saw more defenses recognizing that Denard will never run on a designed pass play, and so our passing game became less effective and Denard's YPC fell. 

So after a year of screaming at the TV, watching Denard search in vain for receivers on 3rd and 7 when there was nothing between him and the first down marker but open space, I'm excited to see him in a new offense that forces defenses to respect (and fear) his scrambling ability, even on plays where he doesn't take off in the first two seconds.

Don't know if Borges will do this, but it was pretty clear that scrambling on designed pass plays was verboten in RR's offense.




February 7th, 2011 at 10:08 AM ^

I kinda agree, but isn't not keeping your eyes downfield and just running at the first sign of trouble a hallmark of a undeveloped QB. All the great QBs are credited for always looking downfield for a pass, and I for one really liked to see that out of the young Denard.
<br>That being said I really would like to see him scramble more to extend plays or gain yardage, and as he grows he will learn when to pull it down. But I still love the fact he's always looking for an open man downfield.


February 7th, 2011 at 10:41 AM ^

That great teacher that will help Denard in 2011 do a better job of knowing when to run and when to throw and when to step out of bounds and what not. 

For a guy starting his first year given the rest of the talent around him on the team, he did fine.  Now, can he make that jump for year 1 to year 2 that most QB's make, I certainly expect that to happen as the game slows down for him and some of the pressure to score on every drive to even stay in a game comes down some with defensive improvement as well.

Ought to be a very interesting 2011 football season!


February 7th, 2011 at 10:19 AM ^

Usually result in more open field, and the opportunity to run out of bounds or slide. Less contact than designed QB runs, where he'd get tee'd off for sure. Add more first downs on these plays requiring less straight run plays, and he could have run the same amount of times, but taken less abuse.

Double Nickel BG

February 7th, 2011 at 10:17 AM ^

Denard was a first year starter. He wasn't the most conformable in the pocket and seeing things develope in front of him. He just lacked the experience and recognition on when it was time to tuck it and run.

I guarantee you RR never told Denard not to take off if it was there. He would have been estatic for Denard to keep more drives alive with his legs.

Flying Dutchman

February 7th, 2011 at 10:28 AM ^

Agreed.  I think he is going to back defenses up with a few accurate throws to his flock of upperclassmen receivers, and then see some gorgeous 20 yard gaps between him and the secondary.   Which he will take off and cover in about 1 second, probably running out of bounds at the end.   And it will be glorious.

Then the defense will adjust and its over the top to Hemingway/Odoms/Stonum/Roundtree, for 6.   And we will all rejoice.

Sextus Empiricus

February 7th, 2011 at 10:31 AM ^

When Denard does straight drop backs routinely then maybe this will be an issue.  That was the exception in 2010.  Most of his reads were quick - especially early on when he was not banged up.  Denard is a different QB first half to second half of the season last year mostly due to his health...not due to his reluctance to scramble.   Denard just did not scramble that often at all last year IIRC.

I have a feeling this will be a common complaint in the coming year, but we will have to see what Borges does.



February 7th, 2011 at 10:50 AM ^

This basically says it:


I'm not sure Denard is quite that, and if we're talking about putting Denard in positions to run or pass that just sounds like a lot of rollouts. And here's the weird thing about Robinson: the guy hates running the ball when he's not explicitly directed to. When he got to the edge this year he invariably chose to throw even when it was third and three and there wasn't a guy within six yards of him.

run run run run run nooooooo okay [ninja stuff] wooooo

Maybe that's because Michigan's offense revolved around Denard running 25 times a game and he didn't want to put any more tread on his tires, but seriously, how many times did you scream "run!" at the TV or field last year?


Blue in Seattle

February 7th, 2011 at 5:20 PM ^

The way Brian wrote this and offered the video, I was never sure what his conclusion was? That since Hemingway made some great moves in space it's OK, or well Denard could have done that too, or fine this time, but next time run it yourself you are quicker and shirtier than Hemingway.

This time Denard did it correct. He used his threat of running to open up a receiver farther downfield. Looking through the video, Denard decides to pass when he is at the 49 yard line, 7 yards away from a first down. Three Illinois defenders are 9 yards off the first down marker, and only one is covering a receiver, the other two are ghosting Denard. So can Denard cover 7 yards before others can cover 9? Yes. BUT by threatening to do so, Hemingway is able to break off his route and come sprinting toward Denard, his cover man 5 yards behind him, and this creates a 10 yard cushion within which to throw the ball. Hemingway catches it at the 24 yard line.

So in Denard's decision making, he chose to throw the ball 25 yards down field for an incredibly high percentage catch, instead of trying to run 7 for a first down. Let's assume the same probability of success for each choice, and he chose the one that gave him 15 more yards, or at least 10 if you want to assume conservatively that Illinois could tack Hemingway when he stopped his momentum at the 30 yard line. So in addition to 10 more yards, Denard reduced the number of tackling impacts into his shoulder by 1.

My conclusion is that Denard was young, but he was also smart and did learn what to do, and started doing it.

Denard's ability was no longer surprising after his QB iso run against ND. Yes he had other good runs against inferior competition. And he was able to juke out the MSU Linebackers, but only by returning to the center of the field to be hit for a tackle, and in the OSU game a fumble causing tackle.

The point of the threat is to hope you never have to use it frequently since it's a rare commodity. Just like a nitro tank on your car.

Denard does have to keep the markers moving, but sprinting to the sticks is the last option, and should only be used when the coverage calls Denard's bluff and denies him a receiver.

eventually that denial will also result in one of the receivers changing from target to blocker, and then the nitro tank pays off with a TD and NO tackle.

I can't wait to see all the shotgun spread formations that get run next year, because that coverage is always going to be light at least one "ghost" to cover Denard. If not, he will be running for a TD.


February 7th, 2011 at 11:25 AM ^

I seem to recall a few instances where RR intimated that he was a bit frustrated with Denard not taking off.  He said the plays are often designed so that taking off is one of the check-downs if recievers are covered.  Can't really fault Denard though because he was a first year started.


February 7th, 2011 at 11:29 AM ^

think the coaches told Denard  not scramble on passing plays? That is highly unlikely, the more likely explanation is that Denard was a first year starter, who wasn't comfortable doing that yet. This aspect of his game should come with more expierence.


February 7th, 2011 at 3:41 PM ^

Coaches often get on young QBs about the need to stay in the pocket and let plays develop downfield.  It's also possible that, given the number of times we had Denard carry the ball on designed runs, we may have urged him not to run it on pass plays to keep him from taking even more hits.  Denard may have taken this a bit too far at times, staying in the pocket when it wasn't necessary, but that's pretty normal.  The next step in his development is to recognize when the play downfield isn't there and take off.  


February 7th, 2011 at 11:50 AM ^

Denard Robinson made more of leap in one offseason than any player I can recall. He can add this to his game and it seems like it will be an important part of the offense.  It is a good observation you make. You could really see that teams knew he wouldn't tuck it on a pass play. That was a huge advantage for the defense because they didn't have concerns about  over pursuing and losing lane integrity. They could simply bull rush.

El Jeffe

February 7th, 2011 at 3:32 PM ^

Finding something to complain about with Denard's season seems like an odd choice of topics.

Also, when you say "Did we ever see one of our quarterbacks audible during RR's tenure?" it makes me think you didn't watch a single down of football for the last three years. In a sense, every play was an audible, in that plays were signaled in from the sideline while everyone was at the line. Didn't you wonder why all of the skill players and sometimes the OL were always looking in the same direction before the ball was snapped?

There are certainly plenty of things to criticize the late RR for, but not having an offense that was responsive to the defensive alignment (which is what audibles are for) and not using Denard to great effectiveness don't really seem like two of them.


February 7th, 2011 at 9:48 PM ^

There is no doubt this is going to be a big improvement for Denard this year. He will feel more comfortable reading defenses and Borges is probably going to emphasis scrambles as where DR will butter his bread in the running games since there will be a lot less called QB runs.

I personally think this could make Denard a much more frustrating player to defend.