Denard will shine anywhere he plays

by | Mar 3, 2013 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

He likes girls. He has a girlfriend. If you’re an NFL team and that’s what’s important to you, Denard Robinson says it’s “yes to both questions.”

But that shouldn’t matter. Neither should split times or bench presses. Once in a while, you have to throw data to the wind and go with that something special.

Robinson has it. He has it all over.

Here is a kid who blew up the record books at Michigan as a running quarterback, yet is willing to play receiver. Or cornerback. Or punt and kick returner. He assures the scouts that wherever you want to use him, he will go.

“I think everything happens for a reason,” he said this past week, after finishing the NFL combine. “Toward the end of the season I hurt my elbow. I couldn’t even throw the ball…. It was like, ‘OK, Denard, you’re a football player, but you gotta know what position you’re gonna play.’… I talked to Coach (Al) Borges and I said, ‘What do you want me to do? I gotta get back on the football field.'”

Remember, this is the starting quarterback talking – a position that all but demands an ego. Yet Robinson played those final games as a decoy, a flanker, a running back – while someone else had his beloved spot.

When I asked whether he felt disappointed or envious, he said, “Oh, no. It opened my eyes.”

The college experience

At the combine, Robinson performed as a receiver and ran an impressive 4.34 hand-timed 40-yard dash. Gil Brandt, the legendary Cowboys executive, touted him as a defensive star.

“It was crazy,” Robinson said. “First thing he said was, ‘Here goes my cornerback right here! Denard Robinson, I want you to be my cornerback!'”

Would you do it?

“Yeah,” he said, laughing. “I wouldn’t mind.”

Make a list of what you want in an NFL player. Skill? He outran nearly every college defense he faced. Toughness? Did you see how many hits he took in and out of the pocket? Leadership? His teammates loved him. Attitude? How much better could his attitude be?

Not once in all the herky jerky of his Michigan career did he complain, make a snide comment or even wonder aloud what was going on – even as his first coach, Rich Rodriguez, kept moving things on the board and his second coach, Brady Hoke, was trying to decide whether he wanted more passing and less running.

Robinson was the ultimate cheerleader. He was never down, not even after bad games. You see him now in the student section of basketball games, cheering, singing. He admits, if it were possible, he’d like to be an NFL player and still live at college.

“I think anybody who went to college, they know, there’s nothing like that experience,” he said. “And, to be honest with you, there’s no place like Michigan. We got the best fans, best people, best students, best professors.”

No one prompted him to say that.

Playing catch-up

Robinson admitted that, during the Senior Bowl, he was humbled by the challenge.

“I hadn’t played receiver. And you go down there, you’re playing with the best. These guys are shining, and I’m just one of the faces in the crowd. I started picking up toward the end of the week but at the beginning, I was struggling coming out of routes….I was like, ‘Man, I gotta wake up, I gotta turn this switch on.'”

Imagine going essentially to an All-Star Game and playing a position you’ve never played. Imagine going from calling the shots to being told where to run. Most players couldn’t do it. Most wouldn’t try.

The fact that Robinson did is all the more reason for teams take a chance on him. Some guys are simply football players. From Kurt Warner to Wes Welker, the NFL has a history of men who weren’t supposed to be stars.

Intangibles count. Robinson would be a brilliant Wildcat option. He might be great at flanker. He’s happy to try to return kicks. “I think I can be an exciting player with the ball in my hands.”

That’s already proven. He’s college football’s all-time leader in rushing yards for a quarterback. He’s the No.2 rusher – including all running backs – in Michigan history. And he’s fourth in career passing at U-M, ahead of Tom Brady, Jim Harbaugh and Brian Griese.

Oh, yeah. He actually can throw the ball.

How can that not be attractive to an NFL team? Robinson said he’d love to play for the Lions and stay in Michigan. But “anywhere is OK. Any round is OK. I don’t care. It’s an honor just to get drafted….

“Hopefully, somebody will call my phone and say, ‘Denard Robinson, we would love for you to be here.'”

It will be a smart team that does. And in a few years, a lot of other teams are going to feel silly.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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