Pre-Spring Ball Thoughts: Quarterback

The spring football period for the Michigan Wolverines is only a matter of a few weeks away.  It feels like forever since the last time we have seen those beloved winged-helmets on the football field roughly less than 60 days ago.  Luckily the spring evaluation period is about to start and  Michigan's Spring Game is set for April 16th.  For Spring Game info click here: 2011 Spring Game 

The spring evaluation period is a big deal. Especially this year with the installation of a new offensive and defensive scheme every position is virtually open.  Before the spring evaluation period starts we will bring you a series of articles entitled, "Pre-Spring Ball Thoughts"  These articles will talk about each of the teams' position groups individually. Allowing you to know who will be battling for spots, how deep we really are at certain positions and estimations on who will be able to secure their spots going into summer practices.

(Original Photo) Photo by Sam Wolson/Michigan Daily
The quarterback position may be balanced in terms of class status but the number of quarterbacks on the roster scares me.  The departure of Tate Foricer to Miami has left the quarterback position three deep.  A number that should concern Michigan fans.   After all, incoming freshman quarterback Russell Bellomy is just an injury away from being a back-up or two injuries away from actually seeing the field.  While the position group is thin it is also one of the most talented.

Lets start with the current starter (JR) Denard Robinson: Last season Denard Robinson awed and shocked Michigan fans along with everyone in the college football world after a spectacular performance in South Bend that resulted in rumblings of a Heisman candidacy.  Michigan started the season 5-0 and it was based largely on Denards talents.  After five games he had accumulated 1, 913 yards of total offense.  He threw for more than 1,008 yards and rushed for 905.  At that time he had more total yards than all but 11 FBS teams. After starting strong Michigan won only two of their next eight games.  At times the offense was almost non-existent.  Especially against Ohio State and Mississippi State.  At the end of the 2010 season he rushed for 1,702 yards and passed for another 2,570 which gave him 4,272 yards of total offense.

Going into the 2011 season Michigan will have a new offensive philosophy.  No longer will they rely solely on Denards legs to garner wins.  Michigan will be transitioning to a more balanced "west-coast" type of offense.  I expect Denard to resemble what Micheal Vick does for the Philadelphia Eagles.  He will have to take more snaps under center.  He will have to learn more about pocket presence and not rely on his natural instinct which is to run.  Denard has the arm-strength to be an effective passer in the Michigan's new offense.  The quarterback position is undeniably Denards to lose.  Keeping the starting spot will depend on how much he grasps the new offense and how quickly he can adjust to being patient in the pocket and allowing the play to develop rather than using zone-reads.  One downfall Denard has always had was his ability to make proper reads.  Too many times last season he would incorrectly read the defensive end which resulted in plays that lost yardage rather than gained yardage as designed.  He will also need to learn to allow his receivers to develop their routes, look of the safety during passing plays and to go through his progressions.  The problem with the zone-read style of offense is it doesn't necessarily allow for a quarterback to learn how to go through their progressions.  A quarterback in a pro-style offense is a lot more accustomed to going through their progressions. This allows the quarterback to release the ball quicker than a quarterback that is accustomed to the zone-read.

Things to watch for during the Spring Game:   To gain an idea of how well Denard may adjust to the new offensive scheme there are some fundamental things I would like to see.  First being pocket patience.  Can Denard stand back and allow the play to develop without being to quick to run the ball.  If the pocket collapses can he stay patient and step aside to make a pass rather then try and run with the ball. Secondly: Can Denard properly go through his progressions or will he start to favor a certain receiver or certain side of the field.  Thirdly:  How well he gets accustomed to having to be under-the-center and dropping back.  Fourthly:  Will having to go against his instinct to run cause him to make mental mistakes. 

Note:  Don't think that Denard is going to strictly become a traditional drop back passer.  Al Borgess knows how lethal Denards running ability is and he will undoubtedly utilize those talents.  We all know Denard can run the ball better than anyone in college football.  My concern is Denards ability to adjust to more of a Vick type of role and become more accustomed to passing than running. 

Moving onto the #2 spot on the roster bring us to (SO) Devin Gardner:  Devin was a highly touted recruit when he came to UM last year.  In 2010 he saw limited playing time due to back issues.  He went 7-10 for 85 yards and a touchdown.  Devin is currently awaiting a response from the NCAA for an applied medical redshirt for last season.  Luckily for Michigan he is expected to be able to play this coming year.  Devin is 6'4, 210 lbs and runs a 4.5, 40-yard dash.  He has the size and speed to thrive in Michigans new offense  under Coach Hoke and Coach Borgess.  Devin is an elusive quarterback who has a strong arm and a good touch on the ball.  We didn't get to see a lot of Devin last year so it is difficult to know just how much he has developed after one year in the program.  A great aspect of Devins game is his ability to stay cool under pressure.  Devin has the potential to become a superstar quarterback for Michigan.  It will be excited to watch him and Denard battle it out for the starting spot this spring and summer.  He will undoubtedly see action this season as he is just an injury away from leading the team. 

Moving onto the #3 spot brings us to incoming freshman Russell Bellomy.  Russell is a 6'3", 178 lbs quarterback from Arlington, Texas. He has a 4.6, 40-yard dash.  He was originally committed to Purdue but quickly became a Wolverine after being offered.  The last time Michigan stole a player from Purdue was WR Roy Roundtree which has shown to be a blessing for us.  Bellomy is labeled a dual-threat quarterback but has the size and arm strength to be effective in Michigans new offense. He definitely needs to add some weight to his frame or he will find himself injured quickly in the Big 10s physical style of play.  Russell would greatly benefit from a redshirt season but probably wont have that luxury unless both Denard and Devin stay healthy all season. 

Michigan desperately needs to find an elite quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class.  In 2012 Denard will be a senior.  Devin will be a junior with two years of eligibility left (unless he gets his redshirt in which he will gain a third year) and Bellomy will be a sophomore. I fully expect Denard to remain the starter with Devin a close second. 

As far as quarterback prospects in the 2012 recruiting class here are some players Michigan is looking at:
1. Brandon Napoleon
2. Conner Brewer
3. Gunner Kiel
4. Zeke Pike
5. Bennie Coney
6. Maty Mauk
7. Jake Rodrigues

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