November 20, 2012

Simpkins: Robinson's new role poses challenge

Ron Simpkins is glad he doesn't play for Ohio State's defense, not after Michigan unveiled an offense that featured both Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson in last week's 42-17 win over Iowa.

"With Denard in there, he creates so many problems for a defensive coordinator, especially if he can throw the ball a little bit too," Simpkins said. "I don't know how you divide your practice time this week, I really don't.

"You run the risk of overloading your players' minds to be on the lookout for about 100 different things, and even if they can somehow grasp all of that, there's a pretty good chance we didn't see everything Michigan can do with both quarterbacks in the game at the same time."

Simpkins was surprised to see Robinson line up at running back last weekend, but also not surprised, knowing the senior is the consummate team player.

"I think it really shows just how much he loves his teammates, how much he loves Michigan, and how badly he wants to win," Simpkins said. "A lot of guys, their pride would get in the way. They'd say, 'I'm a quarterback' and there would be a power struggle, but what we've seen from Devin [Gardner] and now Denard is this 100 percent commitment to the team, the team, the team. Bo would be proud."

As he does every Tuesday, Simpkins spoke to to offer his analysis on the previous game and this week's upcoming opponent.

On how he thought Robinson performed in his new role: "He looked great. No apprehension whatsoever. He looked like a natural wherever he was lined up. And to be honest with you, that's the role he'll play in the NFL. I don't know if that was part of the motivation or if the coaches used to help seal the deal, but on the next level, he can be a guy that lines up at three different positions and creates mismatches every time he touches the football, and even when he doesn't.

"I really don't know how you defend him this week. I think you almost just have to play a very basic, vanilla defense and react to whatever unfolds in front of you, because if you get aggressive and start calling for a lot of movement, a lot of blitzes, and you really try to confuse the Michigan offense, you likely make yourself more vulnerable. But even if you've got a defender out there, Denard is such a threat in space, he can still burn you."

On whether this new role for Robinson ends with Robinson: "I don't think so. This really could be the next wave to hit college football, and to some degree already has at places like Oregon where you take a kid that may not be an every-down running back and maybe isn't your go-to wide receiver, but you use him all over the place for five touches here, five there, three more over there. I think someone like Dennis Norfleet could occupy this role next season."

On whether Michigan should have used Gardner at QB and Robinson at RB for two years now: "We'd like to sit back and say that, but would it have worked two years ago? Was Devin ready to be the quarterback like he is now? Would Denard have excelled in this role from the get-go? I don't know that you could have asked Denard to be a running back two years ago. For a staff to come in and say, 'We're not going to use you at quarterback.' What's his incentive to stick around? And the fact is, they needed him to stick around.

"We're making a lot of assumptions based on how well Devin has played, but there seems to be a lot of talk from the coaches that this was an evolutionary thing for him. That he wasn't mature enough two years ago, and even Devin has admitted that in a few interviews. So I don't think it's fair of us to look back on history and try to revise it. We went 11-2 last year with Denard as our quarterback. We were having a good year when he got hurt, and we could have won each of the past three games if he didn't."

On Michigan's success on play-action and the emergence of a downfield passing attack: "There are a lot of things at play here. One of the big ones is our receivers have really stepped up their games. That's what happens when more and more balls are coming your way, because that confidence builds, and you know that even if you don't come down with one, you're not getting benched. And when guys can play fearless, and can play with some confidence, they start making some of those tough catches you don't expect.

"Gardner does a really good job with the play-fake. I've watched him do it a lot the past few games, and he repeats the same motion he does when he hands it off, and that's a skill, because the guys that are phony, you figure it out early in a game, and then you're not getting duped at all. But if you go back and watch, in the second half, those linebackers are still biting because they haven't seen any tendency from Gardner to know if it's a run or a play-fake.

"The last thing is now with Denard running back there, you really have to respect the running game even more and that's going to open up the deep ball. If I was Michigan, I would never take him off the field this week, because every time he's on the field, you have to put eight in the box, and now you can pass over the top. And the moment they start dropping a safety back into coverage ...

"I keep coming back to this, but the look of the offense right now is scary to me as a defensive player. I'm really glad I'm not the Ohio State coaches this week."

On defending OSU QB Braxton Miller: "The one thing we have to do is keep our containment and leverage on the outside. I know they have some other pieces, but when you're playing strong assignment football this weekend, the one person you always have to account for is Miller. When they run wide, someone has to take Miller. And you hit him every time. You hit him, and hit him, and hit him."

On how knowing the outcome of the Nebraska-Iowa game could impact Michigan on Saturday: "It doesn't make a bit of difference in the world in terms of how badly you want to win that game. Sure it might disappointing to know you can't play for the Big Ten title, but I suspect if that happens, the coaches will refocus these guys pretty quickly. I would expect they're already doing that - talking about ending Ohio State's perfect season, about their own bowl-game possibilities, and most importantly, about their legacies.

"Especially for those seniors, yes they beat them last year, but how did they go out? What was their record overall? Is it 1-3 or 2-2? And for those younger guys, could it be even better down the road?

"This game means an awful lot to Michigan too, it means so much to how you're remembered, what kind of season and what kind of career you had."

On what it means to the seniors to walk away winners: "I lost my last game to Ohio State and it still burns me. For our seniors, this is everything. And I think they'll rally around Denard because they'll want to send him go out with a win. He's the face of this program even with Devin at quarterback. He could have left, but he stayed. And he deserves to be a champion and go out on top."

On whether he thinks Michigan wins: "We're going to beat them. We're emotionally ready and the fact that we have this balance offensively now - I really think Denard is the great X-factor. I don't know how you prepare for him this week. And I think our defense will play well enough. Miller will make some plays, but we'll make more."

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