Roles change for Henne, Robinson in return to Michigan

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By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 22, 2014

DETROIT — The roles reversed for a few hours for former Michigan quarterbacks Chad Henne and Denard Robinson on Friday night.

Henne, a soft-spoken pocket passer who started four years for the Wolverines and graduated in 2008, started the game in a mostly full Ford Field for the Jacksonville Jaguars against the Detroit Lions. He had the keys to the offense, finishing 9-for-14 with 70 yards passing.

Robinson, a famously flashy big-play threat who received perhaps more attention than any other quarterback in Michigan history, was left to do the dirty work for the Jaguars: cover punts, make tackles on kickoffs, block the blitzing linebacker.

“I’ve got an opportunity to play at the highest level of football,” Robinson said. “They put me at special teams, whatever they tell me to do, I will go at 100 percent in everything I do.”

But as far as Henne and Robinson’s Michigan careers go, those roles weren’t normal. And the two scripts were as different as they come.

Henne is a 6-foot-3, 230-pound traditional quarterback, Robinson a 6-foot, 197-pound quarterback-turned-running-back, with many positions in between. Henne is a seventh-year player who has bounced in and out of the starting lineup, Robinson a second-year skill player who hasn’t been around long enough to find his way into the picture.

The differences date back to their college days, but on Friday night, they came together with the Jaguars back to Michigan for their preseason exhibition against the Lions.

“It’s great to be back in Michigan,” Robinson said. “This is my second home, so I’m happy to be back here.”

Because of the experience gap, the two also have different statuses on the team. Henne is the surefire Week 1 starter after making 13 starts last season. Robinson is just establishing himself at the running back position, behind fifth-year power back Toby Gerhart and second-year back Jordan Todman on the depth chart.

Henne earned the starting job because of his experience and knowledge of the offense over rookie gunslinger Blake Bortles. He wasn’t a first-round draft pick like Bortles, but the Jaguars believe he’s the more NFL-ready quarterback.

“Chad stood in there and took some hits,” said Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley. “Got the plays off, got us in the right checks, executed. We had some drops when he was in there. I just think he’s playing really fast right now, getting rid of the ball. He’s showed it all training camp and in the preseason camps.”

Robinson is third on the depth chart in part because of a lack of experience — while fast and shifty, the native of Deerfield Beach, Fla. made just two starts at running back in college and has just 20 carries in the NFL. Friday, he didn’t enter the game on offense until late in the third quarter and finished with one carry for 12 yards.

In short, Robinson has come into the NFL like he came into college, showing his athleticism in all different ways. On his first touch as quarterback at Michigan Stadium, he fumbled the snap initially before picking it up and running it for a touchdown. That was just the beginning of a highlight reel of plays he would make as a player who became known for his ability to make something out of nothing.

At his size, in the NFL, he may have to do just that.

Robinson was an agile, dual-threat quarterback recruited by Rich Rodriguez who ran for 4,495 yards at Michigan, an NCAA record for a quarterback. Henne was a true drop-back passer who ran for minus-315.

Not 315, mind you. Minus-315.

But he also made two Rose Bowl appearances and threw for 9,715 yards and 87 touchdowns. He was much more even-keel than Robinson at Michigan, winning the starting job by the first game of his freshman year and never relinquishing it.

And at 29, he is now an NFL starter again.

“From day one, (the coaches) said I was the guy,” Henne said. “Until they tell me I’m not the guy, I’m just going to keep going out there and working and doing the best I can. Until they pull the trigger, that’s when it will happen, but right now they have confidence in me, I have confidence in them and our offense and what we can do.”

During their college careers, “the guy” would more often describe Robinson than Henne.

But early in the fourth quarter, with Henne’s night against first-string defenders long since over and Robinson’s just getting going against backups, a mostly empty Ford Field mustered a “SHOELACE” chant from the end zone.

The scripts were never going to stay flipped forever.