There were questions as to whether or not Denard Robinson could develop into a quarterback. He's improved dramatically.
ANN ARBOR - Somewhere inside the University of Michigan football practice facility is a piece of film that documents the rapid evolution of Denard Robinson from a raw, and often puzzled quarterback, to a young man dripping in poise.
The video footage is from a private scrimmage this past spring, of which Robinson was, in the opinion of receiver Roy Roundtree, even more impressive than he was a few days later when he dazzled everything in the spring game.
Entering this past offseason, it was difficult to foresee Robinson remaining a quarterback, yet alone being the perceived favorite to take the first snaps of the season for the Wolverines. Fans and media members alike, blown away by Robinson's speed and athleticism, yet underwhelmed by him as a passer, clamored for a position switch. Robinson didn't go anywhere, except perhaps, to the top of the depth chart.
"It never bothered me," Robinson said of the public's opinion. "I was open to [a position switch]."
In the spring game, while operating the first team offense, Robinson looked like a completely retuned quarterback. Gone was a pronounced circular hitch to his delivery. So too were those high arching passes that opposing defensive backs feasted on in 2009.
As for zone read plays, which afford the quarterback the choice to either hand the ball off to a running back or run the ball himself based on the look of the defense, Robinson stopped getting overanxious and began to read "and not just run."
"He picked up where he left off," quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said. "He's doing a good job during camp."
Robinson never had a legitimate chance to win the job last year. By the time he arrived to campus in August the other quarterback in his recruiting class, Tate Forcier, had already been in the program for seven months and had participated in spring drills. Moreover, Forcier has long been groomed to play the position, having received personal instruction from Rod Marinovich, the father of a former NFL quarterback, as well as being the younger brother of two Division I quarterbacks. Robinson, conversely, did not even have a quarterbacks coach at his high school in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
"You just play off of ability in high school," Robinson said. "That's all it was. When I got here they refined it. We took apart everything."
Based on the viewing of the spring game, Robinson has been reconstructed. His 97-yard touchdown pass to Roundtree was tighter than anything that ever came off of his shoulder last year, when he was delivering flimsy passes that coach Rich Rodriguez repeatedly wrote off to a lack of experience.
"It was a feel thing," Robinson said. "Everything was coming natural. Everything was coming together and I was just reading defenses and knowing where to go to the ball at certain times."
Even if Robinson gets the nod Saturday against Connecticut, it won't necessarily mean he has the gig sealed up. Rodriguez has no reservations of playing more than one quarterback in order to find one he really likes, and this week he said he does not plan to redshirt freshman Devin Gardner, who is four inches taller and throws a quicker ball than Robinson.
Should it be determined that Robinson is not UM's best option at quarterback, he'll likely venture to receiver, or perhaps to an already stocked group of running backs. But for the first time in his career, that scenario seems unlikely.