Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 12/20/11
No group of people is more opinionated than sports fans, which is why athletes can become so polarizing these days. Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, of course, is the prime example at the moment. Some people worship him, others despise him. Depending on your point of view, the Broncos are in the playoff race because of him, or in spite of him. There's not much middle ground. In Detroit, Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge is the polarizing figure. On one side, fans adore him because he stuck through the franchise's tough times and he's a personable guy. On the other side, many trash him endlessly for his .235 career average. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Take Denard Robinson, who is 1,311 yards from breaking the NCAA's FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) record for career rushing yards by a quarterback set by West Virginia's Pat White (4,480 yards from 2005-08). No one in college football is more polarizing than the electrifying Michigan quarterback. While some have touted Robinson as a Heisman Trophy candidate at times over the last couple years, many Michigan fans wanted to move him to another position, as recently as a month ago, because of his passing deficiencies. "It's almost like everybody here is spoiled," Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. "If Denard doesn't break a 70-yarder, well, Denard's not doing well." For much of the season, Robinson, a junior, appeared to have regressed in the pass game while trying to make a transition to more of a pro-style offense under new coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges. Robinson played his first two seasons in former coach Rich Rodriguez's read-option spread. Borges has tried his best to blend the two systems into somewhat of a hybrid system to accommodate what the coaching staff ultimately wants to be with what Robinson does well. But in the first 10 games this season, Robinson completed 53.5 percent with 13 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. The critics had evidence to support their point. In the last two games, however, Robinson silenced them all. Against two of the better defenses Michigan faced during the season (Nebraska and Ohio State), he completed 25 of 35 passes (71.4 percent) for 347 yards and five touchdowns, with one interception, while also rushing for 253 yards and four scores. It appeared to be an indication that a more efficient dual-purpose quarterback, with improved mechanics, is starting to emerge and settle into this revamped offense. It's also quite possible that Robinson simply had to take a step back while making the adjustments before he was capable of making progress for the long term. If that's the case and he comes back with another steady performance Jan. 3 against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, Robinson will enter next season as one of the nation's top Heisman candidates. Bowl games are the perfect platform to launch a Heisman campaign. Robinson, who already has considerable name recognition around the country, seems poised to do just that in two weeks in New Orleans. "This whole season I've been growing, I feel like," Robinson said. "I've got to just keep going. I've still got some things I need to work on." When Robinson was getting criticized for being so turnover-prone earlier in the season, David Molk, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center, came to his defense. "He's a great player, great kid, great human being," Molk said at the time. "To get battered by people that really don't know how hard it is, it's not fair." Since then, Molk has watched Robinson make better decisions and not force passes into coverage so much. "He's developed as a quarterback," Molk said. "He's developed as a different type of quarterback, kind of adapting to the mesh between what was last year and what is now. He understands it now. He's really maturing as a player." While Robinson isn't such a one-man show as he was last season, it's clear the Wolverines still go as Robinson goes for the most part. In their two losses, to Michigan State and Iowa, he completed 26 of 61 passes (43.3 percent) and ran for a combined total of 97 yards. Injuries, which went either undisclosed or were downplayed at the time, apparently affected Robinson to some extent along the way this season. Hoke recently revealed that Robinson was hampered by a staph infection near his right elbow on the throwing arm. It was a factor back in late Septemberearly October, but both Robinson and Hoke said the quarterback was wearing a heavy wrap only because of a "boo-boo." In reality, Robinson had been hospitalized for a night and nearly missed a game. He also was affected by hand and abdominal injuries at other times. "He's a tough guy," Hoke said. "He played with it." In the final weeks of the season, Robinson got healthy again, felt more comfortable in the offense and started to make better reads. He knew when to run out of the pocket rather than throwing another interception into coverage. In the process, he became a more complete quarterback who made considerably fewer major mistakes. "I think the biggest growth was him understanding progression reads, understanding how you move in a pocket without moving 100 mph, how you step up in there a little bit and gain a little more time and scan the field a little better," Hoke said. If it was a glimpse of what's to come more consistently next year, Robinson won't be so polarizing anymore. Everybody, including his harshest critics, will be talking about his Heisman chances.
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