Michigan quarterback measured against Bolt and Cam

Posted Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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In the past month, Michigan quarterback Denard Robison has deemed himself capable of outsprinting Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt in a 40-yard dash.

He's heard Alabama coach Nick Saban call him "as significant a player as we've played against" since quarterback Cam Newton, Auburn's 2010 Heisman Trophy winner.

Robinson, a Wolverines team captain and Heisman candidate, attempts to begin living up to the preseason hype surrounding his senior season when No. 8 Michigan meets No. 2 Alabama at 7 p.m. Saturday at Cowboys Stadium. The neutral-site matchup marks the only contest between top 10 teams during college football's opening weekend.

In the estimation of a past Heisman Trophy winner from Michigan, 1991 recipient Desmond Howard, the Wolverines' latest candidate for college football's top individual honor has the skills needed to hoist the hardware in New York if he can shine Saturday and in subsequent high-profile games on Michigan's schedule.

"Denard Robinson is one of the most dynamic players in the country, if not the most dynamic player," said Howard, an ESPN college football analyst, in a phone interview. "He's obviously in the mix. He'll have a huge stage to jump-start his Heisman campaign against Alabama. If he has a good showing in those types of games, he has a great chance to be in New York in December."

Howard, a former Michigan receiver/kick returner who spent 11 seasons in the NFL, is enamored of Robinson's reported 4.32 speed in the 40-yard dash. Howard said he would give Robinson "a fighting chance" to take down Bolt at that distance and conceded that the dreadlocked quarterback would have outrun him in the 40 during Howard's collegiate prime.

"He's fast," Howard said. "I'd give it to him, no problem. I'd say he'd beat me."

But he draws the line at suggesting Robinson could best Bolt, the world record-holder in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, at traditional track distances.

"Anything 50 yards or beyond, I think Usain blows the dreads off Denard's head," Howard said. "But as football players, the distance we train for is the 40. That's the distance where Denard could challenge him. I'd give him a fighting chance in the 40."

Whether Robinson has a fighting chance to remain in the Heisman race until the end of the regular season is open for debate. Robinson has started quickly the past two years, when he's rushed for a combined 2,878 yards and passed for 4,743 in 23 games as a starter. But late-season losses in both campaigns scuttled any Heisman-related junkets to New York.

Robinson said earlier this week that he's grown more comfortable and confident in his second season under Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who tweaked the offense before last year's 11-2 season. He's also striving to control a tendency to get too emotional for big games.

"I know that's my weakness," Robinson said. "I'm trying to calm down. This year, I'm trying to learn from all the mistakes I made last year."

Included were 15 interceptions, a figure too close in proximity to Robinson's total of touchdown passes (20) to satisfy the quarterback or his coach. But Robinson rushed for 1,176 yards (5.3 per carry) and a team-high 16 touchdowns, creating the dual-threat comparisons to Newton, who led Auburn to a 2010 national title and earned 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors with the Carolina Panthers.

Saban identified Robinson, like Newton, as a player capable of taking over a game because of the two-fold pressure he puts on a defense.

"Where he has improved the most is... becoming a more consistent, accurate pocket passer and still having the ability to extend plays with his feet," Saban said. "He makes a lot of significant plays that impact the game. He's become a better passer each game and each year. That's the real key."

Robinson, a 55 percent passer last season, endorses the comparison.

"Cam Newton is a phenomenal athlete," he said. "Hopefully, I can live up to that."

If he does, Robinson could join Howard, cornerback Charles Woodson (1997) and running back Tom Harmon (1940) on Michigan's list of Heisman winners. Howard said he would welcome the addition.

"Yes, definitely," Howard said. "It's an exclusive fraternity."

Passing

Year

Att-Comp-Yds

TD

2011

258-142-2,173

20

2010

291-182-2,570

18

2009

31-14-188

2

Rushing

Year

Att

Yds

Long

TD

2011

221

1,176

53

16

2010

256

1,702

87

14

2009

69

351

43

5

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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