MOBILE, Ala. -- As Michigan’s all-time leader in total offense, Denard Robinson probably knows every square inch of cavernous Michigan Stadium.
After Monday’s Senior Bowl media night in an aircraft hangar alongside the USS Alabama, Robinson probably knows that cavernous space just as well. Robinson was tugged this way and that way, answering one question after another about his evolution from superstar college quarterback to NFL wide receiver-in-training.
Finally, Robinson was asked if too much was being made of his transformation.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said with a smile.
Numerous quarterbacks boasting superior athletic ability but lacking the measurables to play the position in the NFL have tried to make the move. For every Antwaan Randle El, who was the Big Ten’s career rushing leader by a quarterback until Robinson surpassed him in October, there’s probably a dozen players like Eric Crouch, the 2001 Heisman Trophy winner. Randle El, who embraced the position switch, caught 370 passes from 2002 through 2010 and was a Super Bowl hero with a touchdown pass. Crouch, who initially balked about changing positions, never played in a regular-season game in the NFL.
“I live my life with no regrets,” Robinson said. “I made this choice and I’ve got to make the most of it and work my butt off. I’m a competitor, and if I want to be the best, I’m going to train like the best.”
Robinson looks to Randle El as inspiration, as a reminder that the path from quarterback to receiver has been successfully navigated. Another name brings a smile to Robinson’s face, as well. Green Bay’s Randall Cobb started a handful of games at quarterback as a true freshman at Kentucky. Cobb eventually found a home as a receiver and returner and has turned into one of the NFL’s bright young stars as Green Bay’s second-round pick in 2011.
|Denard Robinson is hoping a switch to wide receiver will help him find a home in the NFL.
Cobb, who led the Packers with 80 catches, took a run at Darren Sproles’ single-season record for all-purpose yards until missing the final game-and-a-half with a sprained ankle. Cobb (5-foot-10, 192 pounds) lined up as a wide receiver and in the slot, returned kickoffs and punts, and even set up shop in the backfield. Robinson (5-foot-10 1/2, 196 pounds) has a similar build and has electric open-field skills.
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir,” Robinson said when asked if he was aware of Cobb’s path. “You can tell he’s one of the successful guys right now.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers frequently talk about Cobb’s high football IQ, stemming from his quarterback’s eye for the game and his uncanny ability to be on the same page with Rodgers when a play breaks down. What Robinson might be lacking in polish, he figures he can make up for with intellect.
“Oh, yeah, I think so. I hope I can be like that,” Robinson said. “I’m not there yet but hopefully I can be that way and be gifted like he is. I think I’ve got some similar attributes that he does so hopefully I can do the same things he’s done.”
Robinson was limited at Monday’s practice, the first leading to Saturday’s game, because of an ulnar nerve injury in his right elbow. He caught some passes and attempted to field a few punts in non-contact drills. He said he hopes he’ll be cleared for full participation on Tuesday.
Robinson moved to running back for the end of his senior season. In anticipation for the Senior Bowl and the rest of the scouting season, Robinson said he has worked with a receivers coach. Flashing his typical smile, he wouldn’t divulge anything further about his training.
“I don’t want to say who. I’ll keep that under wraps until everything unfolds,” Robinson said.
Clearly, there’s plenty at stake this week. Nobody is expecting perfection, not with Robinson having had less than three weeks to remodel his game. Still, he has to show he has a feel for the game and the ability to separate from a defender and catch the ball. He’s also going to have to show he can return kicks. That was Randle El’s role early in his career and Cobb’s job as a rookie. On Monday, however, Robinson muffed one punt and misjudged two others.
“There’s no pressure. It’s football,” Robinson said. “You’ve been playing it all your life, so go out there having fun doing what you’ve been doing all your life. Just catching the ball and making plays. If you make plays against these guys -- these guys are the best -- it’s going to mean a lot.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.