Don't be that surprised by the maize and blue blur flashing across your screen these first two weeks. You've seen him before. The last Denard Robinson is due to report to the Arizona instructional league later this month.
His pro football career -- and that's being charitable -- is on hold. The last Denard Robinson was cut by the Miami Dolphins a few weeks ago. The Kansas City Royals signed him recently to a minor-league contract. Back in the day -- OK, three years ago -- the last Denard Robinson looked a lot like the emerging Michigan superstar you see today. Minus the signature dreads sticking out the back of the helmet.
The last Denard Robinson sees the offense he once ran taking off again and the emotion is not jealousy, but joy. All the love and national attention that Robinson, Michigan's sensational sophomore quarterback, is getting now was once all Pat White's at West Virginia.
"He is a beast," the last Denard Robinson said of the current version. "That's all you can say."
Pat White admires Robinson because he used to be Robinson. Call them twin sons of the same offense. Rich Rodriguez's scheme has been their playground. White played four seasons for Rich Rod at West Virginia (2005-2008) during which he set the NCAA career rushing record for quarterbacks. Robinson has started two games this season during which he has become the sport's national talking point.
The comparisons are already there. Both White and Robinson have shot to the top of Heisman lists during their careers. Both were recruited for other positions by other schools. Their body types don't match exactly, but both are/were lethal runners. Good enough that Rodriguez had faith in each to guide his zone-read spread option.
"It's exciting to see the offense that I was a part of being successful," White said. "[Rodriguez] gave me an opportunity that not many people were willing to give me. I want to see him successful."
When he has that triggerman to run his offense, Rodriguez has almost always been deadly. Shaun King guided Tulane to an undefeated season in 1998 with Rodriguez as his offensive coordinator. Rasheed Marshall won a share of two Big East titles with the Mountaineers. White was the Rodriguez offense's archetype rushing and passing for at least 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons while leading West Virginia to within a game of the 2007 BCS title game.
In 2006, White became the eighth major-college player to run and pass for 200 yards in a game. On Saturday against Notre Dame, Robinson became the ninth.
Rodriguez compared the ideal quarterback in his offense to "a point guard who can shoot the three."
"Denard's been shooting a lot of threes," the coach added.
Robinson is the latest reincarnation or Rodriguez's ideal. A minor player as a freshman, not certain to start two weeks ago, Robinson has matured quickly within the offense. The nation's leading rusher has amassed more yards in total offense than 87 of the FBS' 120 teams. He leads the nation in rushing which, even in the second week of the season, is amazing for a quarterback. A quarterback hasn't led the nation in rushing over a full season in at least 40 years.
"I think he is the best player in the country right now, or one of them," Florida coach Urban Meyer told reporters on Monday.
Whether that label, or Robinson himself, will endure will be answered over the next few months and years. For now, here are other key questions:
Can Denard Robinson win the Heisman?
It's early. Way early, but the nation has fallen in love, and that's a start.
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D-Rob was the runaway leader in this week's Heismanpundit.com poll, getting 10 of 13 first-place votes. (Terrelle Pryor was second). The same goes for the first Scripps Howard Heisman poll of the season. Robinson got nine of 10 first-place votes. The CBSSports.com college football think tank had Robinson No. 1 over Kellen Moore.
I watched every single offensive snap from the Notre Dame game. I wasn't bowled over by the kid's passing. It seemed like Robinson missed some easy throws but at the end of the day he had above average numbers. (24 of 40, 244 yards).
"The most amazing thing to me was the way he could throw the ball," CBS college football analyst Gary Danielson said.
Michigan leads the Big Ten in time of possession going into Saturday's game against Massachusetts. It is six-for-six in the red zone (with five touchdowns). The run-pass threat in the backfield led CBS play-by-play guy Verne Lundquist to say Robinson could be the first player to win the Davey O'Brien (best quarterback) and Doak Walker (best running back) in the same season.
Robinson is an unimpressive 50th nationally in pass efficiency. You probably haven't heard that stat this week and, frankly, you shouldn't care. What matters is the Irish defense took their shots, but Robinson kept popping up. When it came to winning time, Robinson was there leading Michigan to the deciding touchdown with less than a minute to play. That could be the first of many Heisman moments.
Can Denard Robinson survive the season?
Through two games, Robinson is averaging 28.5 carries per game. Last season's leading quarterback rusher, UAB's Joe Webb, averaged 19. The only other quarterback among the top 10 rushers this season, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, is carrying 10.5 times per game.
Logic tells you that few humans, much less quarterbacks, can endure that kind of pounding over a full season. Stanford tailback Toby Gerhart averaged more than 26 attempts per game to lead the country in '09. As elusive and resilient as Robinson has been, he is definitely not the muscular Gerhart.
This is big-boy football and it's going to be hard for Robinson's 6-foot, 193-pound frame to hold up.
"That's a lot of carries for a quarterback," Rodriguez said, "[but] we're going to do whatever we have to do to win a game."
"He's not afraid to run the ball or stick his nose in there," White said. "I do think that he is durable and he can hold up."
"You get stronger when you come to college, get a little faster," Robinson said. "I could take the pounding a little more."
Danielson believes he knows the reality behind those words. Robinson will have to back off, at least a little bit. Look at the schedule. There will be no reason to pound Robinson the next three weeks against UMass, Bowling Green and Indiana.
"I really believe that Rich Rodriguez will manage those rushing yards for Denard," Danielson said. "He will now try to show the next three or four staffs he plays that he has other weapons. He will now try to pull some of those carries away from Denard."
Can Denard Robinson save Rich Rodriguez's job?
|A Rich Rodriguez pupil at West Virginia, Pat White is rooting for Denard Robinson. (US Presswire)|
There is hope, something Michigan has been short on since Rodriguez arrived. Given the outlook in August, the Wolverines could easily have started 0-2.
There is charisma. "Shoelace" is going to have kids all over the country walking around with their shoes untied and opening doors for the elderly.
"I don't even have cable," he said. "I don't like going on websites. I like being around my teammates."
Remember, Rodriguez's name is still attached to ongoing investigations at Michigan and West Virginia for having failed to promote "an atmosphere of compliance."
Meanwhile, the hot start has distracted everyone from that nastiness. It still comes down to wins. An 8-4/9-3 season with victories over Notre Dame and Ohio State, for example, is going to overshadow pretty much anything the NCAA can throw at Michigan. Especially if Robinson contends for, or wins, the Heisman.
Is Denard Robinson the next Tim Tebow?
Randall Meisner thinks so. The 36-year-old Grand Rapids, Mich. doctor spent $70 buying the domain names DenardforHeisman.com, DenardRobinsonforHeisman.com and DenardRobinson4Heisman.com.
Just so we're clear about Meisner, it's not necessarily about money. He's as amaized and blue as anyone at Robinson -- a Michigan grad who sees a savior wearing dreadlocks.
"I think he's been electrifying for the program," Meisner said. "He has taken a fan base that has experienced two years of depression and given them new hope."
Obviously, Meisner is betting Robinson on the come. If he corners the D-Rob URL market, great. Meisner just wants to see how far he can take it and how far Robinson can take Michigan.
"I'm hoping to either promote him or at least give people a website to find out more information," he said. "The University of Michigan has never been an institution to promote their Heisman candidates at all. I think people just want to give proper respect."
Using the T-word (Tebow) conjures up a world of possibilities for Robinson. Not all of them good. We're talking hype, Q rating, talent, the whole thing. Just like Tebow, Robinson runs with abandon. Just like Tebow, he is humble. Just like Tebow, his aw-shucks smile can light up a room.
It hasn't reached the point where Robinson can't eat out or walk across campus, but it's headed that way if he keeps improving.
"Denard is probably the best person who could handle all this fame," Michigan center David Molk said. "He doesn't search for it. He actually doesn't like it. He's not going to get taken by the storm. He doesn't like you guys [media]. I don't like you guys."
Maybe that's a good place to start. The current Denard Robinson could be the next Pat White.