Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Who fits and who doesn't?

Quarterback Denard Robinson might struggle in a Brady Hoke offense

After Lloyd Carr retired in 2007, Rich Rodriguez was hired and struggled to turn Carr's pro-style personnel into a spread-style offense.  Steve Threet and Nick Sheridan didn't light the world on fire in 2008, and Tate Forcier was decent for a freshman in 2009.  But the quarterbacks and other offensive players didn't hit their Rodriguez-level spread until 2010, when Denard Robinson temporarily vaulted into the lead of the Heisman Trophy race.  That leap was short-lived, since Rodriguez was ousted and replaced by Brady Hoke in January 2011, signifying a return to a pro-style offense.

I really had no reason to watch or study San Diego State University's offense during the football season, but I've since watched some highlights and read some accounts of Hoke's offensive schemes.  Since no assistant coaches have been announced yet, it's impossible to say for sure what schemes will be run.  However, here are some thoughts based on what I've seen from SDSU's 2010 offense.

It's Michigan all over again.  Lloyd Carr-style Michigan, at least.  Multiple tight end sets, two backs in the backfield, play action with deep posts, a little bit of shotgun spread, I-formation, etc.  Yep.  You've seen it before.

Quarterbacks.  Both of SDSU's quarterbacks were 6'4"-6'5" and 210-215 lbs.  This does not bode well for Denard Robinson, who is approximately 6'0" and 193 lbs.  Additionally, Robinson's best asset is his ability to run, not to drop back and read defenses.  My initial reaction is to expect that Robinson will transfer, perhaps to Pitt, where former Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee has alighted.  He could go to Pittsburgh, sit out 2011, and have two years of eligibility to play quarterback.  In my opinion, the best chance Hoke has to retain Robinson is to make a pitch for Robinson to become a running back or wide receiver.  I think most people realize that Robinson's NFL future lies in a position other than QB, so perhaps Hoke can convince him to begin that position change now.  The rumor is that Tate Forcier has flunked out of the University of Michigan, so that leaves sophomore/redshirt freshman Devin Gardner to helm Michigan's offense.  I do not expect Gardner that would look elsewhere, and he could potentially be a four-year starter for Hoke.  Gardner is more suited to play in a pro-style offense than Rodriguez's spread, in my opinion, so this could be a positive change for him.

Running backs.  This might be partially due to the talent available at Ball State and San Diego State, but Hoke doesn't seem to mind using smaller running backs.  One might think that he would revert to the 6'1", 220 lb. running backs that Michigan used to employ in the 1990s and early 2000s, but that won't necessarily be the case.  I think each of the running backs on the current roster should be compatible with Hoke's offense if they so choose.

Fullbacks.  Michigan fans shouldn't necessarily expect the bruising, blocker-only fullbacks that Lloyd Carr often used.  Don't think Kevin Dudley or Obi Oluigbo.  Think B.J. Askew.  Senior John McColgan could fit here as a blocker, but guys like Stephen Hopkins or Michael Cox would likely be more effective.

Tight ends.  Michigan's current tight ends shouldn't have a hard time fitting in with Hoke.  He likes to involve the tight end in the passing game (SDSU's starter had 29 receptions and averaged 11+ yards a catch), and both Kevin Koger and Brandon Moore are athletic, pass-catching types.  Ricardo Miller has reportedly changed positions to become a tight end, as well.

Wide receivers.  In the short-term, Michigan should be fine at wide receiver.  Hoke ran a West Coast style offense that uses bigger wide receivers.  The likes of Darryl Stonum, Roy Roundtree, Je'Ron Stokes, D.J. Williamson, Jerald Robinson, and Jeremy Jackson should be fine.  A couple of those guys aren't exactly big, but they're big enough and the top few guys are good enough to be successful.  Martavious Odoms played outside in 2010, even though he's more of a slot receiver.  I do think Odoms could be a factor at WR because of his athleticism, blocking, and chutzpah, but he's probably not the type of wideout that Hoke will recruit.

Slot receiversYeah, this is the position that will likely be phased out at Michigan.  That's not to say that we should expect Jeremy Gallon, Terrence Robinson, Kelvin Grady, or Drew Dileo to get cut.  Every team out there seems to be able to use one or two of those types of guys to return punts and kicks, be a change-of-pace runner, or play in the slot.  But there won't be a need to keep so many of those types of kids on the roster.  I wouldn't be surprised to see some attrition from this position.  I hope that none of these guys transfer, so don't take this the wrong way, but it might make sense for a guy like Gallon or Robinson to go elsewhere.  Gallon would have two years of eligibility remaining since he redshirted already; Robinson would only have one if he went to an FBS school, but he could play immediately in the FCS.

Offensive line.  Michigan's offensive linemen beefed up for the 2010 season, and I don't think the transition will be much of a problem for them.  We might see them adding a little more bulk for 2011 - especially Taylor Lewan - but it's not like Rich Rodriguez was playing 260-pound linemen.  Michigan might be a little undersized at center for a couple years, but David Molk is the strongest offensive lineman on the team and Christian Pace should have another year to add weight.  But guys like Lewan, Patrick Omameh, Ricky Barnum, Elliott Mealer, and Rocko Khoury should be just fine.

Summary.  Offensive attrition should be minimal as far as numbers go.  Michigan might lose a quarterback, and I would understand if a running back/slot guy or two decided to try his hand elsewhere, but the transition from Rodriguez's spread to Hoke's pro-style offense shouldn't be as much of a culture shock as Carr-to-Rodriguez.  However, just looking at the quarterback position, the performance might suffer in the short-term while Hoke hones the skills of whichever quarterback(s) sticks around.


  1. Good analysis. My opinion is that while most coaches/coordinators definitely have a preferred style, they also have some flexibility within their playbook to emphasize different elements. I would think a significant portion of Borges playbook has some 3 or 4 WR sets that can be utilized more often. I don't expect him to run Malzhan or Kelly's playbooks overnight, but I would expect some wrinkles and some IQSD....regardless of if its Robinson or Gardner starting next year.

    We can certainly point to many examples of failures to adapt or failures when attempting to adapt, but we can also point to Texas and Ohio State and see how their philosophies evolved to fit their personnel.

  2. I'm wondering why you're so quick to label Denard Robinson a bad quarterback when he was top 25 in the nation in QB rating in his first year starting? He has the arm, he's mobile... Is it that he's not tall enough?

  3. If Robinson makes more improvements in his passing game as he did in last year's offseason, can he fit in this offense? I know that his height limits him, but Hoke's offenses have a lot of plays from the shotgun and also a lot that roll the QB out before passing. Plus Denard being taller would've been an asset in Rodriguez's offense too and it didn't stop him there, right?

  4. So with the slot position likely to be phased out if not eliminated entirely, what becomes of Justice Hayes (assuming he doesn't decommit)?

  5. @ Michael S 12:44 p.m.

    Robinson is a good enough QB for a zone read option type of offense. That's probably not what Hoke will be bringing to the table.

    It has something to do with his height, but more with his decision making and accuracy. Keep in mind that Denard's performance this year was heavily reliant on a) bubble screens and b) wide open receivers sprung by his running ability.

    When teams don't have to account for the zone read option on every play, they won't necessarily suck up to the line of scrimmage. For example, Roy Roundtree's long TD catch against Illinois this year probably doesn't happen if Denard isn't an immediate running threat on every play (Denard averaged 20 carries a game). The same goes for Roundtree's TD catch against Mississippi State.

    Additionally, Robinson isn't all that accurate even on bubble screens. Witness the bowl game when receivers had to dive or jump to catch those quick passes. That leaves very little opportunity for running after the catch.

    If he has to sit back in the pocket and read a defense, I really don't think that's advantageous for U-M. Maybe Hoke can find a way to utilize his skills at quarterback, but I just don't think the two parties mesh very well when it comes to scheme.

  6. @ Alex

    Hopefully my above response to Michael S answers your questions.

  7. @ MEZMAN 12:56 p.m.

    I still expect Justice Hayes to come in and play WR or RB. He could do either one. He wasn't strictly a slot guy to begin with, so hopefully Michigan is still his school of choice.

  8. I pray that Hoke stays flexibile with his offense and plays to Denard's strengths. Figure out some run-heavy offense that empahsizes QB running, some option and play action off of the run. Fucksakes I'm sick and tired of getting a new starting QB every year, and I'm sick of attrition.

  9. "When teams don't have to account for the zone read option on every play, they won't necessarily suck up to the line of scrimmage"

    Which will make our running backs more effective hopefully, but this also means Denard can still kill them on scrambles, bootlegs, etc. He won't be Pat White anymore, but he might still be Steve Young or Mike Vick.

    Its hard to know since Borges hasn't had a QB like this before. Like I said before - you don't change your system for Steven Threet...but maybe for Denard Robinson, you do.

    Its not just about Denard though. Devin Gardner doesn't have pinpoint accuracy either. If his running ability isn't utilized, its a waste.

    With either guy, Borges will have to adjust.

  10. SDSU RBs Hillman and Kazee are 5'10 175.

  11. He's stated on a couple of occasions today that he will incorporate Denard and his skill set into this offense as a QB

  12. Borges worked with Kodi Burns a lot at Auburn and they were running a spread-ish offense then, no?

  13. Magnus, what do you think of how Virginia Tech used Tyrod Taylor? He's listed at 6'1", 210, which is closer to Denard than it is to Lumbering Navarre Type Guy.

    Also curious to learn more about how Vince Young was used at Texas. While I wasn't as scheme-obsessed during his career as I am now, I remember that he had a lot of designed runs despite it not being a zone-read based offense (right?).

  14. @ BML 1:36 p.m.

    I think Tyrod Taylor was a more natural quarterback than Denard Robinson at the same age. There's still room left for Robinson to improve, but he's just really fidgety and pretty inaccurate.

    I liked the way VT used Tyrod Taylor on rollouts and such. I just don't know that Robinson can do what Taylor did, which is make plays with his arm. He's got the legs. I just don't know if Robinson has the accuracy and recognition skills to pull it off.

    Vince Young did use the zone read option at Texas, actually. I don't know the percentage of those plays, but it was in the offense.

  15. Thanks for the response.

    I guess one hopeful sign is the amount he improved from freshman to sophomore year, both as a thrower and at learning plays and reading defenses. (Remember how shocking the spring game was?) Granted, it brought him to a level that is still not fantastic (pure passing-wise), but it does imply a work ethic and intelligence that could lead to further improvement.

  16. Nice analysis. But there's a key factor about the QB position that must be considered: Hoke's offensive flexibility. He's supposed to meet with Denard and the other players today. If Hoke tells Denard that he's commited to running a Penn State-style Spread HD, then not only will Robinson stay, but so will the slot receivers. However, if Hoke is stubborn like dickrod was in 2008 and jams square pegs into round holes, we'll be stuck with yet another freshmen starter at QB, and despite the surrounding talent, the transition will be messy.

    Here's to hoping Hoke commits to the Spread HD and phases the prostyle in gradually.

    Go Blue!

  17. Thanks for the response.

    Denard did show a lot of improvement both mentally and accuraccy-wise from years 1 to 2, which hopefully indicates he has the work ethic and intelligence to keep getting better.

  18. Magnus, I'm a little shocked you allow useless trolls like Poole1Dan on your blog.

  19. we kinda just let VY get the ball and make a play. our play calling has sucked for awhile. im sure we had some sort of scheme but the running joke for texas fans is that Greg Davis(former(THANK GOD) offensive coach) ran a napkin playbook. as in his 3-4 plays were scribbled on a napkin that he used for breakfast on his way to work. and if we ran a trick play it wasnt opening up the playbook. it was opening up the napkin. to b honest denard robinson is too fast compared to his competition to not be successful to some degree.