denard / our lack of big plays / best players on the field

Submitted by griesecheeks on October 30th, 2009 at 5:36 AM

I'll preface this post by saying that I understand all reasons for keeping Denard at QB this year and realize that what I'm suggesting may be unpopular or not feasible... anyway, whatever. I can take it. I'm a man! I'm 40 (not really).

Anyway, so as I've probably made very clear in other threads, our pass game (or lackthereof) is driving me crazy. We quite simply have no go-to threats among our receiving corps... at least, not at this time. We've all seen Daryl and Jr show flashes of maybe-future-stardom, but not with any consistency. Greg Mathews would be a terrific posession receiver if only he didn't have to also be the 'big-play' guy as well (which he is most certainly NOT). I can't imagine opposing defensive coordinators have any reason to lose sleep over containing our pedestrian corps of wideouts. None of them command attention (maybe Odoms, but only in the sense that, he will get the ball a few times on short passes. TACKLE him thereafter!).

speaking of him, Martavious Odoms leads the team with 22 catches for 270-some yards. That's under 3 catches a game. really? Those are uninspiring numbers 8 games into a season.
You can say, well, the receivers aren't getting chances because of the young quarterbacks and their problems. I don't care which way you slice it, the passing game is not working at this point, and I don't see anything magically happening to improve it, except MAYBE the ineptitude of the next two defenses we face.

Now that Tate and Denard are well documented on opposing teams tape, their savviness and moxie can only take them so far. Sure, Tate will make some really neat plays and Denard will break some runs, but there will also be the fumbles, interceptions and bad reads.

Alright, so my point is this: as I see it, Denard Robinson is our only potential gamebreaker (other than a healthy minor/brown running attack, which seems to bog down when defenses can key in on it) on offense. When he's in the game, it has taken defenses awhile to catch up to him. The flip side, of course, as we've seen, he's repeatedly made horrendous throws/decisions, and has proven he's not yet ready to be a full-time QB in the big-ten. fine!

...find a way to get your playmakers on the field. It's a basic philosophy in football. Tate and Denard absolutely need eachother. Have them both on the field at the same time. You can not tell me that having Denard lined up in the slot wouldn't cause the defense and coaches to run around pointing at him... and what a great time that would be to gash a run up the gut with minor, faking an end round to Denard or hurling it deep to another wideout... not to mention putting the ball in his hands and letting him run around with it. Denard could be that guy that you go to 4 or 5 plays in a row until the defense catches up. Hell, he's DONE that already when he's in at QB. We saw Novorro Bowman spy Tate in the PSU game. Make the opposing team commit another athlete to spy Denard, as well.

I want to see opposing teams have to contain the talents of both young QB's at once.

Now, it may be that Denard can't catch a football to save his life (which, incidentally, makes him more of a receiving threat than Martell Webb), but we ALL have seen, i think, that when he has the ball in his hands, he has the potential to change the course of a game. So why not try to cultivate something out of his talents? I'm fine with him taking a few snaps and running around - maybe even throwing short passes - I just don't see why you can't have Tate there as well. If denard ends up a 4 year quarterback, either things have gone totally wrong, or Denard has undergone incredible growth and understand. His future, as much as we keep hearing 'Denard is staying at QB', just doesn't make sense to be as a fulltime qb.

After a game where Penn State totally flummoxed our offensive 'gameplan', I personally want to see Rich and his staff sell out these last few games and gamble a little bit with the offensive scheming: really find out what Denard and Tate can and can not do. It would be exciting as hell to see those guys work together. I'm sure there would still be some of the same excrutiating 'oh-no' plays, but Denard's not going to break tackles or run by defenders on the sideline.

Anyway, something needs to happen to try to mask the fact that we trot out any random combination of the 25 wideouts we have with similar results each week. We just haven't had an offensive gamebreaker emerge.
Rittenberg summed it up well the other week that Michigan lives and dies by the play of it's young QBs (mumble mumble defense grumble grumble walk-on, but whatever...).

Even if it's mostly smoke and mirrors, the presence of Denard on the field forces a defense to keep track of him - something they haven't had to bother with for anyone else for the most part this season.

hope our guys come out flying around against Illinois.



October 30th, 2009 at 6:12 AM ^

We should make them all grow mustaches and then they would be unstoppable.

Seriously though. Until we get another option at qb I don't think they will be putting both of them on the field at the same time in the near future.


October 30th, 2009 at 6:41 AM ^

I agree it would be nice to see. I don't see it happening until maybe the Ohio State game. Denard's running style reminds me of Josh Cribbs from the Browns. He seems to be real slippery when people try to tackle him. I think in the future he will be a receiver/return man and I think he will be great at it. But as you stated we will not get to see that happen this year (until hopefully the end of the season).


October 30th, 2009 at 6:56 AM ^

Agreed. Denard averages over 7 yeards per carry and defenses know he runs 90% of the time. I know he's not very big, but do a few plays with him at running back. When he's on the field he's dangerous. Throw screens to him all day. He can't pass to save his life, but he needs to be on the field.


October 30th, 2009 at 12:59 PM ^

Saying Denard can't pass to save his life. He throws a pretty good ball, he just makes stupid throws some time. This is probably because he has played less than a year in an offense with real passing in it. Freshman Qb's make dumb throws, even Tate, who has much more experience as a passer, does it. That doesn't really help us much this year, but it does merit Denard staying at Qb until we have better options as a backup, or change of pace guy. That might not happen until he graduates, as he could be a better passer than DG next year, because of increased time in the system.


October 30th, 2009 at 7:41 AM ^

No way, haven't you been reading the UFRs? We need a safety. Put Denard in as a Safety!

Seriously though, Denard is a phenomenal athlete with tremendous speed. I'd obviously like to see him get the ball more, but I trust the coaches know what they're doing (Or perhaps have something up their collective sleeve.)


October 30th, 2009 at 8:18 AM ^

I agree with the fact we need as many game breakers on the feild. I would like to see Brown , Minor, Grady, and Denard in a wild cat type formation. You could use Denard or Brown at QB.


October 30th, 2009 at 8:25 AM ^

Tate is beat up. Denard appears to be slightly fragile and prone to taking big hits. I don't think RR sees Denard as that much more of a threat than Stonum or Odoms in a "slash" type position and does not want to risk injury to what he sees as his only viable backup QB. My take, Denard is not a QB, Sheridan would be a better backup option than Denard anyway, so use Denard in any way that could help this team. As a fricking decoy on fake reverses, run a reverse on a kickoff return or a fake reverse, use Denard for the quick option pitch to an RB. Anything that makes a team respect his speed and ability will be a plus. Remembering last year, QB play was not great, but Sheridan was competent in the offensive theory and a big portion of the playbook. If we end up stuck with him due to a Denard injury from use on other parts of the field, we role with the walk-on. More Denard, less obsession with him needing to be a QB when all evidence points to the fact that he is not.


October 30th, 2009 at 8:33 AM ^

exactly. simply his presence makes defenses assume he's going to get the ball and try to run around with it. i think it would open up opportunities for one of the other guys (stonum, mathews, koger, whoever) to be open or at least in favorable matchups.

thinking about it some more, this is the kind of stuff i bet we see for a low-level bowl game... something to spark interest going into the off-season/spring.


October 30th, 2009 at 8:57 AM ^

I agree that Denard is not going to be the QB of the future. His passing and his hands leave a lot to be desired. One problem putting Tate and Denard in the same backfield is one of them might need to block and, unless you want Sheridan back in there, you might not want to subject yourself to the risks, particularly when Tate is banged up.

Here is another somewhat crazy thought I have had in view of the many threads discussing our lack of good defensive backs. Next year, when we do have some additional talent at QB, why not try Denard in the defensive backfield? He is a very good athlete with the speed to cover any WR out there.


October 30th, 2009 at 9:11 AM ^

Denard said in an interview earlier this year that apart from his HS friend also getting an offer, he was recruited with the promise that he would get to play quarterback. That's what he wanted as a condition for coming here!

To switch him involuntarily could mean he transfers after the season. Where? Well all the FBS schools have film on how poorly he has thrown, but maybe a I-AA would take him, like one that effectively uses running quarterbacks, especially a guy with a grudge against Michigan... oh god the HORROR...


October 30th, 2009 at 9:34 AM ^

with all due respect, I'm sure Rich would have promised him just about anything if it meant getting Denard to michigan. he's plain and simple, an offensive home-run threat. It so happened that Denard came in during a year in which he had an excellent opportunity to compete at QB. I don't think whatever Rich promised him holds for the rest of his career.

and, do you really think a guy would turn down the opportunity to be a playmaker wherever the team needs him? especially when the alternative is to transfer to, like, Jacksonville St and fizzle into anonymity as a one man show at QB.

right now, they seem to need him as a QB, and he's shown flashes of effectiveness mixed with fatal decisions/execution. I say, maximize his potential and minimize his opportunity to fail by putting him all over the field. he can still take his 5-10 snaps as a QB, but put him elsewhere as well.

something else I'd like to see that I thought of watching the Dolphins the other day: you know that play where they have Ronnie fake the end round to Ricky? imagine if M came out with Denard, Carlos and Brandon all in the backfield, Denard motions out to wideout, and then they run variations where Carlos takes the snap and has Denard coming around end... basically a triple option. that could be really interesting, because the D has to worry about the RAGE and Denard. just a thought.


October 30th, 2009 at 11:13 AM ^

do you really think a guy would turn down the opportunity to be a playmaker wherever the team needs him? especially when the alternative is to transfer to, like, Jacksonville St and fizzle into anonymity as a one man show at QB.

I'm pretty sure RichRod's promise was a chance to play quarterback, not a guarantee. And even then, as the above poster mentions, why would Denard turn down a chance to be the go-to guy on offense? I mean, no offense, but he isn't playing QB in the NFL ever anyways.

And besides, guys switch positions all the time to help the team. Ferrara moved to OL, and James Rogers moved to DB ... just to name a few.


October 30th, 2009 at 1:00 PM ^

I say, maximize his potential and minimize his opportunity to fail by putting him all over the field. he can still take his 5-10 snaps as a QB, but put him elsewhere as well.

This very well may be the eventual plan. As it is, Denard is still learning the QB position and understandably devoting 100% of his practice time therein. With more practice time under his belt, I think we will see RR deploy him with more flexibility.


October 30th, 2009 at 8:45 AM ^

I'd like to see Denard get the first drive this week at Illinois. Illinois won't be ready for it, primarily run drive with a few short passes, march down for 6. Next drive, Tate. Mix it up, keep it simple.

Steve in PA

October 30th, 2009 at 9:24 AM ^

It's disappointing the DRob couldn't redshirt. I still think that he will be starting at Qb before he graduates. Tate is great, but I think DRob has much more upside and with some experience and another year of coaching he'll be much different than what we see now.


October 30th, 2009 at 9:48 AM ^

Why do you think he will eventually start at QB? His biggest asset is his speed. There is nothing in his past which would suggest that he will ever be an accurate QB. His high school completion percentage was in the 40's.

The other quality that can be acquired through coaching and experience is the ability to analyze and react, but this only gets you so far. There is some innate factor which you either have or you don't. If you are a "don't", you can only get so far. Lots of players have the physical tools, but the ability to process quickly is often not part of the package. It is easy to spot QB's with that quality in the NFL - Brady, Manning and Brees have the smarts. Pryor is a classic case, although the jury is still out. Gifted athlete who makes mental far at least.

As far as jumping ship and going to another school, who knows. I would think that if you have certain gifts and it becomes apparent that you can't make it at one position but might at another, you give it a shot. That, however, doesn't always work with headstrong young athletes.


October 30th, 2009 at 10:15 AM ^

He not only can run better than Tate, which is very important in Rodriguez's offense, but he has a stronger arm than Tate. I personally think Tate will be a four year starter, but it is reasonable to believe that Denard could overtake him since his physical attributes are better in almost every way (Tate is taller)

As far as the mental aspect, its not like Tate is making such great decisions right now. These guys are all very young. Give them time and trust Rodriguez to put who he thinks is best on the field.


October 30th, 2009 at 2:00 PM ^

Call me crazy but i have similar thoughts. I mean this is all contingent on how Gardner performs next year but i see a lot of potential in DRob and i think people are riding him off as a QB a bit early. Some folks forget he came in to Michigan a few weeks before the season began and has not had the kind of training at the position that Tate has had over the years. While i agree Tate is the better QB at this time, i think that is the case because of experience and not ability. If given time, i think DRob can surpass him. He is a better athlete and has more zip on the ball - with proper coaching and a bit more experience he just might be pretty damn good. I just dont know if the fan base and RR has enough patience for it. We'll find out.


October 30th, 2009 at 9:41 AM ^

I agree to get them both in there at the same time. With Odoms(healthy) and Denard in at the slots, Jr and Matthews (Stonum) in at wideouts that would slow the pressure down.


Denard can prove he is a threat catching the ball. As a D, you would have to respect Denard's feet if he can prove to catch the bubble screen or a jail-break. Then, the dominos fall; pressure eases up on tate; Tate has more time to READ the field; receivers have more time to complete/run routes; Tate makes better throws; Run game opens up with fewer bodies in the box; MINOR RAGE; then back to Denard on the bubble. Minor and Denard (not throwing) need to get 15 - 20 touches per game.

El Jeffe

October 30th, 2009 at 10:06 AM ^

Although I feel like this topic has not so much been beaten to death as had its drink roofied, been dragged into an alley, bludgeoned to an unrecognizable pulp with a chunk of ribar-enforced concrete, decapitated, drawn and quartered, and set fire to in an abandoned warehouse, let me just point out that part of the reason for our apparent lack of "go-to" receiver is the lack of passing attempts and the spread philosophy that, um, spreads the ball around.

Overall, our run:pass ratio is 344:208, or 62% run. Tate only has 168 attempts and 92 completions, for an average of 13.1 completions per game (ignoring Baby Seal U stats). This means that even if UM had only three receivers (2 wideouts and a slot), the most they could average would be 4.4 receptions per game for the rest of the way (assuming a uniform distribution*). Since we obviously spread the ball around a lot more than that (8 receivers with at least 7 receptions), the numbers for any one person are a lot lower.

So, I'm not as worried as the OP is about our not having a go-to receiver. I think our offensive struggles recently have come about because of (1) better defenses (MSU, Iowa, PSU), (2) Angry Michigan Molk Hating God, and (3) HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.

I think we need to raise the run:pass ratio even further, as others have said in other threads. The key to this offense is first down. 2nd and 10+ is an absolute killer for this team with this level of experience. If we can be at an average of 2nd and 6 (resulting from as heavy a dose of Minor as his ankle can take), we will be in or win most of our remaining games.

* Note that I am using Tate's numbers because they are the most realistic (I don't see DRob, Sheridan, or the Notorious C.O.N.E. getting too many attempts from here on out).


October 30th, 2009 at 10:28 AM ^

Thanks for the numbers analysis on the pass game. I've also thought the receiving stats were scheme-related, and maybe i'm just not a huge fan of the whole haphazard, 'throw-to-whoever-is-open' idea of a spread offense. That said, a lot of spread offenses have absolute go-to guys (Crabtree, Shipley, Gresham, etc). Even Rich has had a deep threat (Chris Henry). I just don't think we have THAT guy on our roster. I'm fine with us being run-based, which we clearly are, but the ability to throw the football is pretty important, too. Having a definitive go-to guy would be very beneficial to whichever QB ends up being our long-term starter. We don't have anyone who says 'give me the ball' in the clutch. Mathews comes the closest, but he's just not a gamebreaker. Teams don't need to gameplan for him, or anyone else. right now, teams only really need to lock in on Minor and the QB's.


October 30th, 2009 at 10:53 AM ^

you know what i mean. Having a guy that commands respect from the defense opens up other opportunities. right now, defenses don't need to know who any of our receivers are.

and from what I've observed, our offense sees guys like Stonum, hemingway, and mathews disappear for entire games without so much as a look. to me, that breeds a kind of 'eh, someone else will get open and bail out the QB' attitude. the scheme doesn't seem to allow for one guy to get hot and force the defense to stop him. seems like it could affect focus (read: CATCH THE DAMN BALL) of some guys.

that's all I'm saying.

EDIT: I'm not pinning all the problems here on the scheme... this is just my observation and maybe a peave with what Rich and Calvin are trying to do. I would like to think that if one guy stepped up and made the tough catches and was reliable in the clutch, that they'd go to that guy. Drops, combined with young QB's, injuries and lack of a receiver stepping up all combine to cause what we've been looking at since the near comeback against MSU.

El Jeffe

October 30th, 2009 at 9:19 PM ^

Yes, that was my Tim McCarver analysis: it's easier to score when you get the lead off runner on than when you don't:baseball::it's easier to make a first down on 2nd and 4 than 2nd and 17:football.

Nevertheless, when I get a minute I'm going to do some research on UM and several rivals in terms of converting 1st downs when getting behind the sticks. My prior is that we will come out looking bad, but I'm prepared to be surprised.


October 30th, 2009 at 10:09 AM ^

I would settle for a hand full of plays with D-Rob in the slot. The first play - get him the ball! I recognize he came to UM to be a QB and we need QBs for this year and next, but man I want to see him get the ball in space a few times per game. If the coaches wait to do this until OSU, I'm okay with that.

EDIT: D-Rob on a post pattern would be nice to see, even if it was a decoy.


October 30th, 2009 at 10:23 AM ^

Have you noticed that Robinson is also fumbling? What happened to all the people that wanted Minor permanently benched for a couple fumbles last year but now don't seem to care when Robinson does it? I really like Robinson and almost got in a fight at a bar during the PSU game because two guys were yelling that Robinson shouldn't be in the game before he threw the pick. Of course, I had to eat my words when he turned the ball over both times he came in.

Right now, I think we need Robinson to play QB and nothing else. I also think that unless Tate is hurt, he shouldn't be in the game at all. Now is not the time to tinker with our team. We have a good shot at finishing the year strong and going to a bowl game. Turnovers are worse than a few extra yards because Robinson is a little faster than another player who has been practicing at a position other than qb for the whole year.


October 30th, 2009 at 10:32 AM ^

I get what you're saying, but I think the upside with Robinson is best demonstrated by his first snap in college. He might fumble, but, he can turn a mistake into 6 points. Minor's not going to break the big one. He'll grind teams down over the course of a drive, but he's not going 60 yards in a play. When he fumbles, it's doubly frustrating because it usually means he's killed his own momentum.

I've said it from the beginning. I'll take the risk of mistakes in exchange for getting our playmaker(s) on the field.


October 30th, 2009 at 10:36 AM ^

The original post points out the lack of play-makers at WR. I agree...and also point out that RR must have known what he was doing after all with the 5 verbals we have from WRs for next year's class.

I also finally got around to watching the first half of the Penn St game yesterday (I was driving to the UP on Sat and listening on the radio), and was actually impressed with D-Rob's second quarter drive, sans the last throw that led to the INT. Even though Penn St knew he was running, he was still getting good chunks of yardage, and hit a wide open Kroger who dropped the ball. It wasn't a perfect throw, but still one Kroger should have caught for a 20 to 30 yard gain. I could see D-Rob developing into a pretty good starter, once he stops making the freshman mistakes and has a year or two in the system. I'm not saying he'll ever be a better 'QB' than Tate, but I'm pretty excited for both of them to continue playing together over the next three years.


October 30th, 2009 at 11:27 AM ^

Denard's two throws were:

1) A bullet for Koger that was high and behind him. Perhaps it should have been caught, but it would have been a highlight-reel catch.

2) An interception thrown directly into the hands of Navorro Bowman.

I don't see how you can take away from that, "Yeah, I think he's going to be a good quarterback." Denard is Nick Sheridan + speed - football IQ.


October 30th, 2009 at 12:13 PM ^

the thing that's always impressed me about denard and makes me want M to find more ways to use him is this: even when he's in the game and teams know he's going to run, he still consistently gets excellent yardage. if you take away the need for him to heave balls in the direction of guys downfield, i think he becomes far more effective. eventually, he'll have his own "small package" to misplace a Chad Henne quote, and i think he'll eventually be more consistent in terms of fewer mistakes.


October 30th, 2009 at 12:13 PM ^

Way to bury a kid eight games into his career.

I guess it suck to struggle as a freshmen on your team. Tate makes that throw to Bowmann as well, IMO.

There is a reason a majority of freshmen QBs get redshirted. They are not ready. Neither is Denard.

I agree that 3rd and 9 are not downs for Denard, but I dont think its fair to take a small sample size of 20 passes and just bury him. I'm pretty sure he has a higher football IQ than you or I.


October 30th, 2009 at 12:32 PM ^

agreed about tate making that same throw to Bowmann. Kind of what I'm talking about in general. Bowmann's sole task all day was to follow the eyes and body of whichever QB was in the game. he did that with no problem, whatsoever. put Denard in the game w/ Tate, and a second PSU defender is suddenly occupied.

i don't think anyone's burying Denard. we all just want to see the kid on the field, with the ball, in space. it's certainly impossible to predict how he'll grow in this offense, but a lot of factors seem to indicate that eventually, it would make sense for him to find a role that maximizes his athletic talent. riding the bench as a 2nd/third string QB certainly won't do it. being THE QB keeps another bonafide QB on the sideline, and exposes his current weaknesses.

anyway, we'll see what happens. i've got faith in Rich, as a supposed offensive innovator, to figure it out.


October 30th, 2009 at 3:52 PM ^

This is my biggest issue with how Denard is being used right now. He's too raw as a throwing QB to be put into 3rd and long situations. He's a great weapon if he's used properly at this point in his career. Tate needs to be in during 3rd and long situations.


October 30th, 2009 at 1:21 PM ^

Penn St, probably the best D we'll see all year, knew D-Rob was going to run, yet our offense was getting pretty good chunks of yardage with either D-Rob or Minor running it. If you take that running ability D-Rob brings (i.e., able to gain first downs when the D knows a run is 95% likely), and add to being able to competently throw TE seam routes (i.e. the one we saw to Kroger) and other low risk throws (one or two reads, if nothing open, tuck and run) D-Rob will develop into a pretty good 'starter.' Will he ever be good enough to attempt 30+ passes in a game? Unlikely. But, the offense could be pretty successful with D-Rob running the Pat White version of RR's spread.


October 30th, 2009 at 12:20 PM ^

Argh. I'm not saying he won't be a good quarterback. I'm saying you can't take THAT GAME and present it as evidence that he'll be a good QB.

That would be like taking Cissoko's game against Notre Dame and saying, "I know he got torched all day, but after today's performance, I think he'll be a good cornerback."


October 30th, 2009 at 12:36 PM ^

He probably does have a higher football IQ than me. Hell, my only quarterbacking experience is from flag football and running 7-on-7 against my defense.

I was a lineman. I love lamp.


October 30th, 2009 at 12:49 PM ^

Do we even know that? Speed and elusiveness are only a part of what makes for a good slot receiver. Seems to me that when other teams have a serious talent like D Rob somewhere on the team they try to get him ball PUTTING HIM IN THE WILDCAT!


October 30th, 2009 at 1:08 PM ^

You know the funny thing about the Wildcat?

Michigan hasn't run it since last year when Carlos Brown took direct snaps.

When we do put Robinson in to take snaps, it's called something extra fancy.

It's called "putting in the backup quarterback."