BY ANDY REID
Daily Sports Editor
Published April 13, 2009
On National Signing Day in February, early-enrollee Tate Forcier couldn’t even remember Denard Robinson’s name. All he knew was what his mom had explained over the phone earlier that day: the Wolverines signed another dual-threat quarterback, and he is really fast.
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Forcier and Robinson were finally introduced before Saturday’s spring game. While Forcier warmed up with the first-team wide receivers, Robinson, donning his bright red Deerfield Beach (Fla.) high school letterman’s jacket, made his way around the field and talked with players and coaches. Bubbly and excited, Robinson made his rounds, even stopping to sign autographs.
The two, along with redshirt junior Nick Sheridan, will soon be battling for the starting quarterback position in the summer — but neither of them seems too worried about it. Forcier, who has the advantage of an entire semester in Ann Arbor and 15 spring practices with the team, impressed the crowd with his swagger on Saturday.
Forcier threw for three scores — including a 50-yard bomb to redshirt freshman Roy Roundtree — and ran for another. He seemed uncomfortable in the pocket in the early goings, often scrambling instead of progressing through his reads. But by the end of the scrimmage, he had settled down. His strong, accurate arm and agile footwork were a welcome surprise for Michigan fans, including one in particular.
“I'm still close with some of the fifth-year seniors, and they tell me that he hangs out with the guys, he's having a good time,” said Forcier’s brother, Jason, a former Michigan quarterback who was in Ann Arbor to see the game and apply for the Sports Management Master’s program. “Despite being a freshman, he's taking command of the team. They told me he's got that moxie, that confidence.”
Most point to Forcier’s accuracy and growth during spring practices as reasons why he’s got a leg up on Robinson.
And Forcier is already seeing a payoff from his time with the team in the last few weeks.
“These extra practices help so much,” Forcier said. “The first day I was here, I was lost. I just didn’t know what I was doing. But as time goes, you get coached up by all the coaches. You just see your whole game slow down that much. Since I’ve been here, I’ve felt so much more comfortable with everybody. We’re on our way to a good start.”
But Robinson isn’t conceding the starting job that easy.
A sprinter who recently ran a reported 10.28-second 100-meter dash at one of his high school track meets, Robinson has been working closely with Michigan quarterbacks coach Rod Smith since February. The two talk on the phone almost every day, often discussing plays and schemes.
Smith has even flown down to Florida several times to teach Robinson the spread-option attack face-to-face.
“I've got a pretty good chance,” Robinson said about his opportunity for playing time in the fall. “That's my gut feeling, but the coaches are telling me I've got a chance to start.”
Robinson came up to Michigan for a chance to meet the team, see the spring game atmosphere and prepare himself for the changes he’ll soon face. Robinson is moving to Ann Arbor two days after his high school graduation on June 3. That could be hard for the self-proclaimed momma’s boy, who said the hardest part about moving would be “probably getting used to being without my mom.”
Robinson had a chance to sit down with Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez and others in the program in Ann Arbor, and that interaction could help in Robinson’s transition to the college game.
Rodriguez, who has given Forcier high praise all spring, can see similarities in the two newcomers.
"He's kind of like Tate, one that picks up concepts well,” Rodriguez said. “When he gets here this summer, he'll come by and see us and want to talk a little football. … Some of the veteran quarterbacks do a great job of getting together and teaching some of the things, so Denard will get thrown right in the mix. I'm excited to see him competing with the rest of them."
Rodriguez expects the competition for the starting job to last until the fall, since he knows both quarterbacks will experience ups and downs.
But Jason Forcier, who transferred to Stanford from Michigan after the 2007 season, isn’t concerned about either quarterback picking up Rodriguez’s offensive scheme. Jason never fit in former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr’s pro-style offense, and he said a spread is much easy for younger quarterbacks to pick up.
“The spread offense is something that, if you can get the base down, you can add a lot of the ingredients later,” Jason said. “You can do variations of all kind of stuff off one play. … Compared to the pro-style, it's much easier to learn, especially because there's not as much verbage in it. You're not saying a play that's 20 words long.”
Even though neither seems to be concerned about the other, both are known to be fierce competitors. Forcier and Robinson will fight all summer for the starting nod. The speculation surrounding next year’s starter will keep heating up — but for now, let the introductions continue.