Al Borges: Denard Robinson's passing instincts 'baller' in Year 2 of scheme
ANN ARBOR -- When Denard Robinson completed only seven passes and had a pick against Eastern Michigan last year, Al Borges said just wait. And when Robinson had nine completions and a pick against Michigan State, Borges said just wait.
When Robinson completed six passes and had a pick against Illinois, Borges said wait.
When Robinson finished the season with 15 picks, easily the most in the Big Ten, Borges said wait.
The wait, perhaps, is nearing an end.
Borges, Michigan's offensive coordinator, preached patience whenever Robinson would struggle in the passing game last season. He noted time after time that quarterbacks don't always transition well into his scheme right away, but do make leaps in their second year.
Robinson seems to be figuring out the passing game, both physically and mentally, and it starts with cultivating something that once seemed a long way off for him: Instincts.
“You want guys to have a feel for the game that goes beyond just their skill level," Borges said Tuesday. "The kids call them ‘ballers’ -- you know, the guy’s a baller. You can say he may not do this, but the guy balls.
"I don’t know what that means -- to me, that’s an instinctive guy.”
What does that mean to Robinson?
"That means a lot, if Coach Borges called me a baller," he said with a laugh. "That's his first time calling me that."
Robinson struggled in his debut against Alabama, completing only 11-of-26 passes with two picks. He picked up more than half his 200 yards on two completions.
But the Crimson Tide also feature the nation's reigning No. 1 defense. He appeared to be more on target in that game, even if it didn't show because Alabama is so good.
Against Air Force, Robinson flashed improvement all over the field. He delivered crisp, timely passes, although arm strength -- and even to a point, accuracy -- haven't been his biggest problems.
It has been the cognitive stuff -- recognizing coverages and blitzes. Anticipating defenses.
Now, he's figuring that out. And when he messes up -- like overthrowing an open Roy Roundtree, or making the wrong read on an option -- he diagnoses it right away.
"One thing about Denard that is amazing is that if something goes wrong in front of him, he can identify it quickly," Borges said. "He can go to the phone right away and say, 'Blah, blah, blah missed his block right in front of me and I just couldn't see the throw,' or, 'A safety jumped in front of me so I backed out and did this.'
"It's amazing how accurate he is. You look back at the tape and it's almost verbatim with what he said."
Some players have to watch tape to process how plays went down. Not Robinson -- at least, not anymore. When he walks off the field, he heads straight to the bench, puts on a headset and breaks down what went wrong with Borges.
"His ability to troubleshoot his own problems is so much different than it was a year ago," Borges said.
Robinson finished last season 142-of-258 passing (55.0 percent) with 15 interceptions. He was battered for being too one-dimensional as a quarterback, or for being too much of a liability as a passer.
But Robinson said his head caught up to his arm sometime during spring camp, or in the summer. He began to see things before they would happen, and immediately process what went wrong if he did screw up.
Those are instincts.
"Once I come off the field, I get to the headsets and I tell him, 'OK, this is what I seen, and this is what we should probably do,' or something like that," Robinson said. "It's different, because we're in Year 2."
Robinson seems to have heeded the advice he dispenses to freshmen: "Just keep doing, don't give up on yourself and when you mess up one time, don't beat yourself down.
"Don't ever dig yourself in a hole. Just shake it off and let's go."