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CHICAGO — Denard Robinson arrived at McCormick Place Friday morning attired in a black sport coat, tan pants, and, in a display of loyalty to the university to which he renewed his vows this offseason, a maize and blue-striped tie.
It wasn’t long ago Robinson’s status as a member of Michigan’s football team was iffy. The most prolific rushing quarterback in NCAA history had a choice to make in January when Brady Hoke was hired as head coach: Conform to a new offense — one that may shelve his uncanny speed — or find a new university.
“A lot of people assumed I was gone, and they just made it more than what it was,” Robinson said at Big Ten Media Days.
Robinson admits he considered transferring, if only briefly. He met with Hoke shortly after Hoke’s arrival, liked what he heard about shifting from a spread to a pro-style offense, and then calmed nervous Wolverines fans everywhere.
“ ‘Coach, I’m not going any where,’ “ Hoke recalled Robinson saying. “He had talked to his dad about getting a degree from Michigan. He said, ‘whether I play quarterback or not, I’m going to help this football team.’ “
In some ways Robinson, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, chose the more difficult path because it’s also an unfamiliar path. He will be asked to take snaps from under center, something he did in high school in Delray Beach, Fla., but seldom did the last two seasons when he operated from the shotgun in Rich Rodriguez’s spread.
In seeking more offensive balance, Robinson will be asked to do more of what he sometimes struggles to do, throwing the ball, and less of what has made him perhaps the most electrifying player in the country — blowing past defenders in his untied cleats. By no means is Robinson expected to approach the 1,702 rushing yards he produced in 2010.
But a complete overhaul isn’t expected either. Robinson won’t pour cement in his shoes and start to emulate, say, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins, or other prototypical drop-back passers.
“A broken play is always the hardest play to stop,” Robinson said. “If I’m looking downfield and no one is open, I can run the ball.”
He just won’t run the ball 29 or 28 times a game like he did last year when such an exhaustive workload was necessary for Michigan to win early games against Connecticut and Notre Dame.
“I think the less you run, the better, unless it’s a designed run” said Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa, who rushed 164 times in 10 games last season. “I think as a quarterback you want to manage the game from the pocket and not run so much.”
Finding a productive running back or two to ease the burden on Robinson will be a high priority in fall camp for Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges. None of the backs on the roster has yet to perform consistently at a high level, and none of them stood out among the crowd during the spring. In an ideal scenario, Mike Shaw, Michael Cox, Vincent Smith, Fitz Toussaint or Stephen Hopkins will carry the ball 20 or so times a game, leaving fewer carries for one or two others. True freshmen Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls could be in the mix too.
Soon after Robinson informed Hoke he would be staying at Ann Arbor for the new era of Michigan football, he stood in front of his teammates and delivered the same news. Everyone in the room was happy. Everyone, that is, except for Robinson.
“This was really the first time I saw him get upset and get loud,” teammate Mike Martin said. “He was kind of mad about it, that anyone would ever think he was leaving.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6160