Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is at the Senior Bowl, practicing as a wide receiver in the hopes of getting drafted and embarking on a long NFL career at that position, not unlike the direction in which former Indiana QB Antwaan Randle El went. Hence the comparisons between the two. You remember.
One slight problem for Robinson: He hasn't set the world on fire at practices down in Mobile, Ala., yet. He hasn't been horrible and there are glimpses of potential, but a natural receiver he is not. Moreover, as MLive.com's Kyle Meinke notes, his elbow issue hampered him extensively in the first two days of drills:
Through two days of Senior Bowl practices, the former Michigan star has fumbled his opportunity.
It's not entirely his fault, as nerve damage in his right elbow prevented him from participating in all contact drills Monday and most contact drills Tuesday. Problem is, those are the drills Robinson most needed to show his stuff at the position.
Robinson was able to run some routes both days, and a few routes against defensive backs on Tuesday. Although he flashed decent hands, he dropped at least three balls during the second day of workouts.
The biggest problem area, at this point, appears to be his routes. He's rounding off corners, and not getting out of his breaks explosively.
Route running and catching are, of course, the vast majority of what wide receivers do, so if Robinson's struggling with both aspects, it does not bode well—and his inability to be cleared for contact during the first two days didn't help matters.
You can see the struggles Robinson had running routes on Tuesday in this video from practices. His footwork just isn't there, mainly because it's not the way he's used to running. There's nobody denying that he needs time to work on these skills. It's just that there usually isn't a whole lot of free time for development on 53-man rosters in the NFL.
The elbow condition, at this point, is affecting Robinson's right hand. Here's what the Detroit Free Press' Dave Birkett noted from the All-Star practices:
Injury notes on Denard Robinson on Senior Bowl roster sheet say: "Cannot extend R pinky." ... He's raw, but that doesn't help catching— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) January 23, 2013
The good news is that Michigan doctors cleared Robinson for full contact on Wednesday, and not surprisingly, the day where he was allowed to participate like everyone else is the day where Robinson received some praise from observing coaches. Here's AnnArbor.com's report from Wednesday:
Scouts came here to see Robinson go at it against defensive backs. His first full day of drills drew mixed results, but even that was enough to impress Oakland Raiders receivers coach Ted Gilmore.
"Today was his first day we could turn him loose, and I was pleasantly surprised," said Gilmore, who is Robinson's position coach for the week. "He caught the ball better than I thought he would.
"When he does get in trouble, on the ones he drops, he’s just got late hands. He’s got to learn to bring his hands with his head, and once he does that, he’ll be fine, because he does have soft hands. They don’t fight the ball, by any means. And obviously, we all know what he can do once he has it in his hands.
"To answer your question: Can he play receiver in the NFL? I think he can."
That's the good news from Wednesday. Other reports from observers in Mobile were not quite as complimentary:
Denard Robinson cannot catch. #SeniorBowl— Michael Tanier (@MikeTanier) January 23, 2013
Denard Robinson had to be physically placed in the correct spot to line up— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) January 23, 2013
Denard's caught every kickoff so far. Clearly more comfortable here than at punt returner.— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) January 23, 2013
Look, it's way too early to draw conclusions about how Robinson's going to transition to wide receiver. Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said so on Tuesday, per AnnArbor.com. His routes need to get a lot better. They will get better, but we don't know how much better. Robinson doesn't know, scouts don't know, we don't know. That's just how it works.
At the very least, though, there's a sense that the Denard Robinson Experiment should at least continue. He might look rough during the Senior Bowl. But go back to the video clip of Robinson in his receiver drills—specifically, the last play. That is a lethal burst on the double move, even with the suspect route-running. If he can channel that and get more used to running the way receivers run, he's probably on to something. We'll see how much of that he can bring to the table this weekend.