Ann Arbor — This quarterback controversy was somewhat inevitable.
When you bring in three top recruits in a two-year period like Michigan did, it’s going to take some time to get completely sorted out.
It’s a difficult balancing act. You don’t want to risk team chemistry by failing to identify a starter at a position where leadership is so important.
On the other hand, you owe it to everyone involved to let it play out on the field until there’s clear separation. Sometimes you have to be patient a little longer than you ‘d prefer.
There’s an old saying in football that if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none, meaning no one has emerged enough to secure the job.
That’s true in many cases, but it is possible to have a fierce competition between multiple qualified candidates, even at quarterback.
It appears Denard Robinson, a 6-foot, 193-pound sophomore, is the likely choice to be the Wolverines’ starter in their Sept. 4 opener against Connecticut.
Tate Forcier, a 6-1, 192-pound sophomore, does appear to be responding after getting called out and challenged by teammates and coaches, and he does have more experience than Robinson after starting all 12 games last season.
There’s also an extremely gifted freshman, Devin Gardner (6-4, 210), who apparently shows flashes of being a future standout.
“Tate’s more a pure passer,” Michigan quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said. “Denard’s probably the most explosive. Devin’s kind of a combination between the two but bigger.”
You can probably make a case for all three, which sounds like a positive but can become a negative sometimes under these circumstances.
“In the ideal world, do you want one?” Smith said when asked about having a clear-cut starter.”Yeah, you always want one, but I’d rather have two.
“I want two of them. If I can get three of them, I’m going to be greedy. You let it play out. It’s neck-and-neck, man. They’ve got to win it.”
In a real ideal world, you’d actually have three of these talented quarterbacks but with different seniority. One would be a senior, another a sophomore or junior, another a freshman.
That didn’t happen for the Wolverines because of the coaching transition from Lloyd Carr to Rich Rodriguez.
First, Ryan Mallett, now a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate at Arkansas, decided to transfer because his drop-back passing skills didn’t fit Rodriguez’s read-option offense, which requires a more mobile quarterback. This would be Mallett’s senior year at Michigan.
Instead, Rodriguez scrambled to find a respectable replacement his first year, in 2008, before going with two true freshman, Forcier and Robinson, last year.
Forcier was more advanced at the time, partly because he enrolled early and had participated in a spring practice.
Robinson still got some playing time to take advantage of his running ability. Now that he’s been in the program for a year, he is becoming a better overall quarterback.
Instead of reading the defense on the read-option last year, which would indicate whether he should give the ball up or not, Robinson admitted this was his basic approach: “I’m not reading, I’m running myself.”
“Now I can read,” Robinson said.
“I always wanted to run,” he added. “I rushed everything. When you rush, you’re not thinking like you’re supposed to. That hurt me a lot.
“Last year it was real fast. Now it feels slower. The game’s slowed down to me.”
Robinson also has improved his passing, which was woeful last year. His fundamentals needed a lot of work.
“He’s worked his tail off,” Smith said. “I’m super proud of him. It’s got to translate onto the field on Saturdays. But all signs so far have been positive.”
Much of what’s happened with Forcier has been negative since he led the Wolverines to a 4-0 start last year.
A shoulder injury and poor decisions resulted in a turnover-prone second half of the season as Michigan lost seven of its last eight.
Some of this current competition, Forcier brought on himself with a poor attitude, opening the door for Robinson.
Forcier was called out by teammates for his lack of commitment to the players’ off-season training. He also had the wings on his helmet removed as a form of discipline for the first week or so of preseason camp.
Forcier, however, is starting to show more maturity. He at least said all the right things Sunday during Michigan’s media day.
“I saw it more as a challenge,” Forcier said of the scrutiny from within the team. “It made me work a little bit harder. Just gain back their respect and be the leader I should be. I kept my mouth shut. “I’m going to show this team that I’m the quarterback. I’m all in on this team, it’s all about Michigan.”
With a system that exposes the quarterback at times to more hits, relying on more than one quarterback isn’t such a bad plan.
At some point, over 12 games, you’re going to need that second guy.
For now, each is trying to prove he can make good decisions and maintain ball security. Those are the top two priorities in this race — make the right read and don’t turn the ball over.
“I’ve got to have a smart guy back there,” Smith said. “I’ve got to have a guy that’s a point guard in basketball that can dish it out but still shoot the three once in a while.
“I don’t want them looking over their shoulder, but at the same time, they’ve got to understand there’s heat behind them, baby. I want that. That makes each person better.”
Sometimes a little so-called quarterback controversy isn’t quite as bad as some think, at least for the short term.
Sometimes it’s just part of the natural process to determine the best man for the job.
For the Wolverines’ sake, this better be one of those times. They’ve had enough controversy since Rodriguez took over. They can’t afford anymore. Not right now.