Brady Hoke hopes to have Denard Robinson back on the field Saturday against Northwestern. He's going to be ready with an improving backup plan, just in case.
Hoke fielded the expected barrage of questions about his senior quarterback and junior backup Devin Gardner at his Monday press conference. The head coach basically explained that Robinson will be practicing this week with hopes of playing, while Gardner is the number-two man there and will also take significant snaps.
Sophomore Russell Bellomy, reported as injured on Saturday, appears to be unavailable again.
"I'm not going to address his condition," Hoke said regarding Bellomy.
Hoke had plenty to say about the others, especially Gardner. The junior quarterback threw for 234 yards and two touchdowns in the win at Minnesota, demonstrating strong athleticism and a solid arm in filling in for Robinson.
Robinson remains Michigan's starter, Hoke assured, when he's able to go. That could be as early as Saturday.
"He's just improving, slowly," Hoke said. "He was better yesterday, practiced yesterday, threw the ball yesterday, ran yesterday. We just want him to be healthy."
Gardner, meanwhile, impressed Hoke by doing a solid job of managing the offense and extending plays with his scrambling ability. Hoke wants him to walk a fine line there and not take big sacks, as well as know when not to throw the ball into traffic, like he did on his one interception.
Overall, Gardner looked impressive, Hoke noted.
"You've seen him do that in practice before, the things he did," Hoke said. "Some of the good things of extending plays out, and then being productive with it, finding a place to push up in the pocket, delivering the ball. He's always been a guy who has kept his eyes down the field when he is in those situations.
"He probably was in more of those than we'd like. We've got to do a better job of protecting. That was one of the things we didn't do well. There are some little things when you talk about the ball mechanics that we've really got to clean up."
Hoke indicated Gardner will still work out some at wide receiver, but take more snaps now as a quarterback.
"You always like to have the depth at every position, whether it be quarterback or your nose tackle," Hoke said. "Having guys who have done it before and have shown you that they can do the job, that's always a big part of it.
"That position is unique because of getting the ball every time. It makes it good that you have a guy that has been in a game and started a game."
Asked if both could play some quarterback in a game at some point, Hoke moved as deftly as either Robinson or Gardner under pressure in the pocket.
"I don't know," he said. "That's too far down the road. We'll definitely have a plan for whoever."
• Hoke is finding little fault with his running backs, redshirt junior Fitzgerald Toussaint and sophomore Thomas Rawls. The plan all along, the head coach noted, was to play them both, but the plan hasn't been executed very well.
"I think they both have done a pretty good job when they've been in there," Hoke said. "When there have been times when there has been enough space, they both have run hard, run downhill. We may have missed two or three cuts last week, but I like how their attitude is running the football."
He admitted that puts the onus on an offensive line that hasn't performed well at times.
Asked point blank if he's concerned about the group, he said: "Yeah, I am. We had some protection breakdowns that we can't have, and we haven't had. It's us moving the line of scrimmage more. We had 155 yards in rushing. I'm not sure how much of that was scramble. We'd like to get more from our backs running the football.
"Those two guys, for the most part, read things right, ran downhill. We've got to do a better job at the point of attack."
• Hoke acknowledged junior punter Will Hagerup's struggles, after he averaged 29.3 yards on three boots, including a pair of shanks against Minnesota.
"There's a fundamental that every position has, and a technique," Hoke said. "Before the game, I always check on them, see how they're doing, go down and pretend to coach them. I'm not a true punt coach.
"The one, he kind of swung his leg across his body, which he doesn't do. The other one, in my estimation, where you set the ball, he had it outside and not down the middle. It's a fundamental thing."
• The U-M head coach cautioned that Northwestern brings to Ann Arbor plenty giving the Wolverines cause for concern. They stand 7-2 and lost to Nebraska by just one point, after blowing a two-score lead in the fourth quarter.
"They're well coached, and I have a lot of respect for Pat [Fitzgerald] and how he coaches, how his team plays," Hoke said. "They have some threats offensively.
"Venric Mark is an extremely shifty, quick runner. He does a tremendous job, and they're blocking well up front.
"Overall as a team, they're plus-six in turnover margin, which is a very good number. From the defensive side, they're doing a good job. They've only thrown three interceptions. That's with both quarterbacks - [Kain] Colter and [Trevor] Siemian. They're doing a nice job of managing that part of it.
"Tyler Scott, on the defensive side, is a guy that is very active. He leads the Big Ten in sacks and forced fumbles. We've got our work cut out for us."
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