Michigan’s Denard Robinson dilemma

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (16) runs the ball by Ohio State defender Johnathan Hankins (52) during the second quarter of their NCAA college football game in Columbus, Ohio, November 27, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Michigan’s new head coach, Brady Hoke, is facing a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, he needs to bring Michigan back to playing Michigan football after the disastrous RichRod experiment. That means moving back to a pro style offense and moving from the absurd 3-3-5 defense that stopped nobody in the Big Ten back to a traditional 4-3. Michigan needs to get bigger, and Hoke has started that process with his 2011 recruiting class.

Yet with respect to the offense, Hoke also has Denard Robinson, one of the most explosive college football players we’ve seen in years. He was perfect for RichRod’s offense, even though that offense and Robinson sputtered against better defenses. It was an all-or-nothing proposition, and naturally Hoke is anxious to move on.

So how does he use Denard Robinson going forward? Hoke says “We’re smart enough to have elements he does well from what he did in the past in our offense.” But he plans on using Robinson as the quarterback in his pro style offense, which will have Robinson taking snaps under center instead of the shotgun and relying on play action.

I’m skeptical this can work. Sure, he’ll still unleash Robinson at times, and I suspect they might use the option play, but Robinson’s effectiveness will likely suffer dramatically under this system.

Robinson made big plays in the passing game last year, but that was because he found wide-open receivers when defenses tried in vain to slow down his running game. This year he won’t have that luxury. I don’t see Robinson consistently making the tough throws demanded in a pro style offense. He’s also very short and that will limit him as well.

We’ll see how this experiment plays out, but I suspect that Hoke will regret taking Robinson out of his element.

A better option might be to have a traditional quarterback run Hoke’s new offense, and keep a version of RichRod’s system around for Robinson to run as a Wildcat formation. He could also use Robinson as a Slash-type weapon in the traditional offense.

Right now their odds of winning the Big Ten are set at 15/1, so few are expecting a breakout year.

With this transition and the drama surrounding the Big Ten this year with the addition of Nebraska and the troubles at Ohio State, Michigan should be one of the more intriguing stories of 2011.

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