Denard Robinson embracing leadership role
AUG 06, 2012 10:42p ET
It was the voice of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, and the wide receiver could hear it all over the practice field.
"Denard's really picked it up," Roundtree said after Michigan's first fall practice. "He's a lot more vocal than he has been in the past. You can actually hear him now."
Robinson has been a star since his first game with the Wolverines, but as a senior, he's also embracing the role of a leader. Being louder on the practice field was just the first step.
"I think we've seen Denard step up as a leader since the spring," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday. "His maturity level is high, and even though we are just one day in, he did a really nice job today of getting the offense where it needed to be, and calling plays in the huddle. There's more confidence this year."
One of the first signs of the new Robinson was his speech at last week's Big Ten Media Days. Not many players wanted to try to follow Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins' effort from 2011 — a speech that got Cousins national attention — but Robinson delivered a powerful effort about his family and their struggles.
"As soon as it was over, I texted him and told him that I thought it was incredible," Roundtree said. "I had never seen Denard open up like that."
Robinson acknowledged that the speech showed a different side of himself, and that the contents were even a surprise to his mother.
"I ran it by my brother, but I told him not to tell mom what I was going to say," he said. "She told me that she loved it and she was proud of me, but that she didn't cry. My brother said she cried, so we'll have to see about that."
Hoke was equally impressed.
"I thought he did an amazing job," he said. "He gave the kind of speech that you would expect from Denard, and that's what you want from your players. You want them to have the confidence to be themselves."
For Robinson, though, a speech and one day of practice are only the beginning of what he hopes to accomplish during his final season.
"It is all about growing up and taking on a leadership role," he said. "That's something I have to be ready to do this season."
Robinson didn't have the spectacular stats last year that he had in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, but he led the Wolverines to a Sugar Bowl championship. Even in a system that took away much of his freelancing, Robinson still had over 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season – joining Missouri's Brad Smith as the only BCS-conference quarterbacks to manage that feat.
He is on pace to shatter Antwaan Randle El's career rushing record for a Big Ten quarterback, and could finish his career as Michigan's total-offense leader.
All that means is that Robinson is now so established as the Wolverines quarterback that backup Devin Gardner is getting work at wide receiver — something Robinson is excited to see.
"I don't even know what he is going to be able to do out there," he said. "When you see him out there, you will think he's been playing receiver his entire life. He's such a great athlete that he's going to be able to make plays no matter where you put him on the field."
The one weapon that Robinson is missing is starting tailback Fitz Toussaint. Toussaint, who was arrested for drunk driving during the offseason, remains indefinitely suspended, as does defensive end Frank Clark. Clark was charged for second-degree home invasion in June.
Hoke would only say that the two did not take part in Monday's practice, and that no decision has been made as to a possible return. The Wolverines open the season against defending national champion Alabama in Dallas on Sept. 1.
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