It didn’t take long for Denard Robinson to make Greg Mattison eat his words.
Michigan’s star quarterback and defensive coordinator had been exchanging friendly jabs before spring practice started — and Robinson has served his coach a large piece of humble pie.
“I’ve had to be really humble around him lately,” Mattison said. “Now, the other guy I’ve really started to get on, so he’s been getting hit a couple of times. So I can get on him a little bit.”
While Mattison turns his mockery to Devin Gardner, one would assume, Robinson has dazzled his new coaches with his speed and athleticism.
“If the darn kid would throw the ball, rather than run all the time — I mean, anybody can scramble,” Mattison said, tongue in cheek.
“No, I’ll tell you one thing, if you’re calling defenses against him — I said it after one of our days — we rushed four, played regular coverage and you’re asking for trouble,” Mattison added. “When he drops back and you’re not perfect in your lanes, it’s going to be a first down. Because he beats somebody and he’s going to beat you inside or outside — I didn’t realize how fast he was.
“I mean, there’s guys that have perfect angles, and all of a sudden I look and they’re past the stakes. He really is something.”
The quarterback who finished sixth place in the Heisman trophy voting last season and was the centerpiece of an explosive Wolverine offense will try to avoid a slump in 2011.
His left tackle, Taylor Lewan, summed it up perfectly in an interview with MGoBlue.com on Friday.
“No one has any doubts, Denard is a great quarterback,” Lewan said. “That’s probably the No. 1 question: How’s Denard taking to the new offense. Denard’s doing a great job.”
Then Lewan deadpanned and looked directly into the camera: “So you guys can stop worrying. We’re going to be just fine.”
Most of the discussion surrounding Robinson’s transition from Rich Rodriguez’s spread option offense to Brady Hoke’s pro-style scheme has focused on the quarterback’s ability to take snaps from under center.
In the same MGoBlue.com video, Robinson downplayed playing under center, because he played in an offense that required it in high school. But he did say it was the biggest difference between last year’s and this year’s offense.
“When you look at taking the snap from center and the mechanics that are involved, and I can tell you we’re way ahead with that part of it than we were at San Diego State,” said Hoke on FoxSports Detroit’s “Inside Michigan Football” show on Thursday. “The quarterback there, was a shotgun guy all through high school and his first two years at San Diego State.
“So Denard’s done a great job. And I think, sometimes, people feel you’re running the spread so the quarterback must not be able to throw the football — that’s not the case with Denard. I think he’s made improvements every day out there.”
Robinson’s answers during his interview carried the same air of enthusiasm that Hoke and Mattison had bragged the players bring to work every day.
“Learning, learning, learning,” Robinson said of what he’s working on now. “Just coming in here ready to learn. That’s the only thing I’m doing right now, trying to learn the offense.”
And how does he feel about the new offense so far?
“I like it, I like it,” Robinson said. “I think it’s going to help me a lot — get me ready for the next level.”
Interestingly enough, Robinson’s high school coaches, with whom he has stayed in contact, said Robinson’s ultimate goal is to play in the NFL — playing in the pro-style offense probably gives Robinson a better shot of playing quarterback at the next level.
ESPN’s NFL Draft Analyst Todd McShay told The Michigan Daily in an interview during the NFL Scouting Combine that he didn’t think Robinson would play quarterback in the NFL — but a successful 2011 could change that notion.
For now, Robinson is working with his receivers to settle into an offense that requires him to drop back and spray passes all over the field.
“We come in every day ready to learn and ready to play,” Robinson said.
And though Mattison may be off his back, but offensive coordinator Al Borges isn’t letting up.
“It’s kind of funny,” Robinson said of his relationship with Borges. “Because he always gives me crap all the time — it’s cool.”