CFN's Conversation with Denard Robinson

The most electrifying player in college football is ready to do even more. Denard Robinson discusses being a vocal leader, growing as a passer, his speed, the Heisman, the season opener against Alabama, and more.

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America, what more are you looking for out of Denard Robinson?

He has been the electrifying playmaker. He has been the starting quarterback for a Sugar Bowl winner. He completed 14 of 17 passes and ran for 170 yards and two scores to finally end a seven-game losing streak against Ohio State. He ran for 258 yards to beat Notre Dame one year, and he threw for 338 yards and four scores the next.

His biggest accomplishment so far has been bridging the gap between the rebuilding attempt under Rich Rodriguez and the breakthrough under Brady Hoke, but if anything, he has done the near-impossible, becoming under-appreciated as a highlight-reel quarterback at Michigan.

Robinson on his Media Days experience: "I haven’t been asked about Penn State or Urban Meyer, so I can handle it."

Still, for all of his accomplishments –- running for 3,229 yards and 35 touchdowns while throwing for 4,931 yards and 40 scores over the last two-plus years -- he hasn’t been a Heisman finalist. Despite the gaudy statistics working hard two seasons ago to compensate for a defense that couldn’t stop you and 10 friends from rolling up 400 yards, he hasn’t been given enough credit as an elite college football quarterback.

Now it appears to be Robinson’s time to be the more complete player everyone is looking for, understanding that he needs to improve on the little things to make his passing game better while also maintaining his devastating ability to hit the home run from anywhere on the field.

Cam Newton won the 2010 Heisman because he was able to run wild, but he also proved he could throw when needed. Robert Griffin III was always an accurate and efficient passer, but he also got to play in a quarterback-friendly Baylor system that often kept his world-class speed in check. Robinson isn’t the passer that Newton and Griffin are, but he’s a better runner. In terms of the Heisman chase, he’s not coming from out of left field like those two did.

It’s a different Denard Robinson coming into this season, ready to be more vocal and prepared to be the leader. This is going to be his Michigan team, and if everything goes as planned, this could be his college football season.

Compared to last year when you were here for the Big Ten Media Days, how much more comfortable are you with the crush?

Denard Robinson: It’s fine. I haven’t been asked all the same sort of questions yet, and I haven’t been asked about Penn State or Urban Meyer, so I can handle it. I’m used to it.

Is it your job to be more vocal and take on more of a leadership role for the program considering your status?

DR: As a quarterback, you’re supposed to take on that role no matter what, but as a senior, now I can relate more to the younger players and it’s far easier for me to handle the questions and handle the role. For the team, now I can tell the younger players about my experiences as a freshman and going through what they’re going through and how I was able to learn how to become a better player and a better person. Now it’s my job more and more to help the younger guys become better. That’s my job. That’s my role.

Is that out of your comfort zone?

DR: Not anymore. I’m learning more and more how to talk to the media and how to talk and act as one of the leaders of the team. I’m learning how to become more of a social person and how to enjoy it. That comes from being the quarterback at Michigan; you’re in the role whether you like it or not. Being around for a few years, now I’m comfortable. Once you’re comfortable and you can relate to both the media and the team. You know what your team and the younger players like and what they don’t like and how they can handle what you’re trying to teach them.

How is your relationship with Brady Hoke compared to when he first signed on last season?

DR: It’s a little different. It’s Year Two, so now I know more what he likes and what he wants me to do. I’m getting more and more about what reads he wants me to make and what he wants me to do to make the offense go. Now I can make the adjustments at the line better and I can make adjustments on the fly that much easier because now I’m not learning the offense and what he wants me to do. Now I can take what he wants and build on it. I can break things down better and do what I need for the rest of the offense rather than just try to figure out what he needs.

Hoke’s offenses usually work with a bigger pro-style passer than a quarterback that’s your style.

DR: It’s all about timing. As long as I get my timing down, I’m fine with the offense. It’s about working within the pocket when I need to and making sure I’m making the right reads faster. It doesn’t matter what style you are as long as you’re finding your receivers and doing it right. That also comes from how I’m supposed to throw and doing it the right way every time. Last year most of my interceptions came because I threw off my back foot. I didn’t do things like I was supposed to and the mistakes started to come, the throws started to sail and I wasn’t able to get the timing right. That was me rushing it and not relaxing and playing my game. That’s what I worked on this offseason to improve the way I throw every time so that it’s right.

Last year I had to work on just figuring out the offense, but this season I can try to get better and I can try to get the little things right.

How much has the game slowed down for you compared to early last year?

Not just a threat with his arm, Robinson is one of the elite runners in the country.

DR: It has really slowed down because now I can make the right looks and reads. Now I’m able to understand more and more the adjustments being made and I’m able to know better what the linebackers are doing and the other little things. Before I wasn’t able to pay attention because I was so concerned about what I had to do, but now I’m able to understand what the safeties are doing to adjust along with the linebackers and all the other little things. Now I’m able to see the things that I can take advantage of and adjust better on my own.

So is it harder for you to stay in the mindset of being a passer when it’s time to run? You have to do all the little things right for the passing game but when it’s time to go, for you, it’s not just taking off and scrambling for yards?

DR: I always have to have the same mindset. When someone comes open I’ll get him the ball, but when we have to get three yards and they’re there I’d rather run and just get those three yards rather than take the chance for the touchdown. I don’t mind taking the high-risk play, but I have to take the mindset that I need to make this play, and then get the chance to make the next play rather than go for something that might not be there. I have to be able to take what’s there and do what I’m supposed to do. It’s like my father always told me, when it’s time to go, go.

But are you able to quickly shift out of quarterback mode to running back mode in the open field? A quarterback has to make the play to get those three yards, but a home-run hitting running back wants to take it to the house ...

DR: Oh, if I’m in the open field and I see the touchdown might be there, then let’s go get it. I have no problems quickly thinking about making the big run after working to find the right receiver. If I’m in the open field then I think that it’s mine and I shouldn’t be caught from behind. If I’m in the open field, then that’s mine.

Is there anyone on your team who can catch you?

DR: No ... I don’t think so.

Is part of that knowing that you can’t get every yard and it doesn’t do you any good to take a big shot trying to make something happen that’s not there?

DR: When I’m in the heat of the moment I’m going to do what I have to do. I’m not thinking about whether or not I can try to take on a big linebacker or a D tackle, and I’m not thinking that I can’t get hit. I play, and I don’t want to start thinking too much when I’m trying to make something happen. I’m not going to be crazy; I’m going to make them miss.

Nick Saban has already said that the focus and goal in the opener against Alabama is to stop you. Everyone says that, but it’s a little different coming from Alabama.
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DR: Yeah, but I’m just one guy and there are ten other guys on the offense with me. If they want to focus everyone on stopping me, fine. That just means one of our other players will take over. It’s not just me and it’s not just the offense. The defense will have to do its part in case we have any problems, and the special teams have to shine, too. Remember, we beat Virginia Tech because of special teams.

There’s a lot more to this team than just me. I’m not just putting the pressure on myself to come up with a good game, but I’m putting pressure on my team. Everyone has to focus on doing their job and everyone has to play their role, and if I have a good game, that makes it easier on everyone else.

Yeah, but your game is about being dynamic and explosive, so in a game like the Sugar Bowl when Virginia Tech has you shut down are you able to keep from getting frustrated?

DR: Of course you get anxious and of course you get frustrated, but if it’s a grind, then let’s grind. If that’s the game and that’s what we need to do to win, then let’s win that way. Yeah, I want to make the big play and yeah, I want to be explosive, but if that’s not the game then I have to be able to work with that. Let’s go, let’s grind, but let’s not force anything. If I try to force things that aren’t there, then that’s when I start making mistakes and that might not be what that game is about. I might not be coming up with the big plays, but if I’m not making major mistakes, then that’s what the defense and special teams are for.

Yeah, as the leader and the quarterback it’s all about the team and it’s all about just getting the win, but for you, considering that you’ve been everyone’s midseason Heisman winner over the last few years, how ticked are you that you haven’t been invited to New York?

DR: It’s because in order for you to go to New York you have to have wins. Nobody expected Cam Newton to win and no one expected Cam Newton to lead the way to a championship, but he won because he got the best out of his team and he got the wins.

Robert Griffin didn’t win any championships. He won because he was electrifying and came up with a few magical wins. Because you’re at Michigan and wins are expected, does that almost make you under-appreciated as a Heisman candidate?

DR: I’d never say that. (Griffin) brought something to the table that Baylor didn’t have before. Those guys at other schools work hard and they did what it took to win the Heisman, and RG3 came through and did what he had to do. I’ll never take anything away from him or anyone who does big things because they worked for it and earned it. It just means I have to work harder and be better.

How much different is it for you now after going through a rebuilding phase when the team wasn’t Sugar Bowl good?

DR: It’s Michigan, so the expectations never change. It’s always been fun and it’s always great to win here. That’s the tradition. That’s what Michigan is supposed to do, and yeah, when we’re winning and we’re coming up with the big games, then of course that’s fun. That’s the special part about being a part of this tradition, but it’s also a part of building our own tradition. It’s our job to get respect from the older players to win, because at Michigan, that’s what we’re supposed to do.

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