This spring, just like last spring, all eyes will be on the three-headed quarterback monster that is the Michigan football team.

And that’s why it was one of the more popular topics Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez addressed before the Wolverines’ first spring practice on Tuesday afternoon.

Rodriguez said that sophomore quarterbacks Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier will get the majority of snaps in the spring because early-enrollee Devin Gardner still has things to learn before he is at the other quarterbacks’ level.

“This will be the first practice for (Gardner) today, and I’m sure his head will be spinning the first couple of weeks, but he’s a very, very competitive guy, very intelligent,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll throw all three of them in the mix.”

Forcier started all 12 games for Michigan last season, while Robinson was used as a change-up to challenge opposing defenses. Robinson was more of a run-first option last year for the Wolverines, running the ball more than twice as much as he threw it.

And Robinson was effective when he carried the ball, finishing fourth on the team with 409 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per carry. His strengths outside of the pocket have forced Rodriguez to reconsider where Robinson can help the Wolverines this coming season.

“We’ll do some different things with Denard,” Rodriguez said. “I think he’s too explosive when he’s not playing quarterback to have him standing beside me. He’s going to learn quarterback – that’s where he’ll be a majority of the time. … With his kind of speed and his ball skills, I think we can move him around a little bit.
“Again, we expect him to compete for the quarterback job. He and Tate, and for Devin to come in, there should be some pretty good competition this spring.”

Forcier and Robinson both had to play significant roles for the Wolverines last season as true freshmen, so now with Gardner, Rodriguez has the luxury of playing the best player at quarterback and bringing his newest true freshman along without any pressure.

“Tate and Denard played last year as true freshmen and did an admirable job,” Rodriguez said. “But Tate and Denard aren’t going to back up. They’re going to get better, and Devin’s got a job to do to beat them out.”

Spring practice goals: With the weather getting warmer, Tuesday felt like a subdued football Saturday early in October.

This spring, Rodriguez and his staff will have evaluations to make, schemes to implement and players to watch. And specifically, Rodriguez touched on five goals the Wolverine coaching staff has for its players — two of which deal directly with spring practice.

“One is getting fundamentally better at your position, learning your position,” Rodriguez said. “Two, the other goal regarding spring practice, is to prove that we can win with you. Prove it to the coaches and prove it to your teammates.”

Rodriguez now has two full recruiting classes under his belt heading into spring practice, and he has just 12 seniors to lead the squad this year. Last spring, he did not hesitate to play younger players; spring practice is an opportunity for players to improve and prove themselves to the coaching staff. Because some early-enrollees could again certainly see significant playing time as true freshmen this fall, Rodriguez will use the same strategy this spring.

“At the end of the 15 days, (we hope) that our guys have gotten better fundamentally,” Rodriguez said. “There are some guys in our program that this is a very critical spring for them to prove to us that hey, they’re going to be a guy we can count on in a two-deep offense, defense or maybe play special teams.”

Injuries and position changes: One important storyline for Michigan in its preparation for the 2010 season is how a few key Wolverines bounce back from serious injuries.

Sophomore running back Vincent Smith (torn ACL), junior defensive tackle Mike Martin (shoulder) and redshirt junior center David Molk (torn ACL) will miss all of spring practice due to injuries.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Junior Hemingway and redshirt junior linebacker Brandon Herron will miss part of the spring practices.

Aside from injuries, there are a few early position changes to note. Redshirt freshman Cameron Gordon was moved from receiver to safety and sophomore Teric Jones was kept at safety instead of being moved back to offense to create some depth in the defensive backfield.

Position versatility will also be important on both sides of the ball. Rodriguez said some of the slot receivers could see time at running back and that both fifth-year senior Greg Banks and redshirt junior Ryan Van Bergen will play both defensive end and tackle.

Senior Troy Woolfolk and redshirt freshman Justin Turner could also play multiple positions at the back end of the defense. Both will primarily play cornerback, but Rodriguez said the two could play a little bit at safety as well.

Notes:Rodriguez said redshirt senior Nick Sheridan has “retired from football” and hopes to enter the coaching profession. Sheridan is not allowed to work with the Wolverines now because he’s still a student. … This past Saturday, Michigan held a 40-yard dash sprint race among teammates. Fifth-year senior Adam Patterson won the 270-pound-plus division and junior Martavious Odoms won the faster heat, barely beating Robinson.

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