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The Bipolarity of Denard Robinson's Mechanics

Why is Denard such a headache to watch when he's throwing the ball? Because he'll easily complete a high-level throw on one play, only to come back and miss on a screen pass on the next. We examine the mechanics behind both the good and bad versions of Denard Robinson.

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Denard Robinson is difficult on so many levels: he's a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare and an offensive coordinator's headache in the film room. For every ridiculously awesome cutback there's an equally maddening pass. Why? If you've watched your fair share of football it isn't hard to tell that Robinson still reverts to his old tendencies, making him look like an athlete playing quarterback.

Athletes who play quarterback aren't hard to spot, mostly because their mechanics are anything but sound. On the other hand, seasoned passers jump off of film because of their polished mechanics and robotic efficiencies. Denard Robinson used to flash an athlete's tendencies early on in his career, and although he's matured as a passer it isn't to the point of a truly polished signal caller. He'll make a difficult throw look easy on one play, only to come back and miss a check-down throw on the next.

Basic QB Mechanics

Let's lay down the basic mechanics of a polished passer before we dive into Robinson's film against Michigan State. These mechanics are only half of the battle in the passing game, as none of this includes how to read a defense, audible, or anything of the sort.

Footwork: I tweet about this all the time, so I'm sure Rex Ryan is a fan. Footwork is just as important to a quarterback as it is to a boxer; both use their power base (the legs and hips) to drive through the torso and shoulder to deliver something. A QB should have his feet at least shoulder width apart when delivering a pass, and the feet shouldn't sit still on the turf. Keeping the feet live allows for a quick reset, allowing the passer to save precious tenths of a second before delivering the ball.

When a pass is delivered, the front foot should be pointed toward the target with the back foot planted firmly. Doing this allows the QB to generate force through the hips and torso, ultimately twisting the shoulders around and snapping the ball out of the hand. Robinson breaks the cardinal rule of footwork by throwing off of his back foot at least once in every game, leading to balls that sail like a Terrelle Pryor arm punt.

Arm Action: This varies slightly for different quarterbacks, but the release should be repeatable, quick, and come over the shoulder around the 1 o'clock mark. The delivery can be shortened in some situations. For example, if you've ever seen Aaron Rodgers escape the pocket and deliver a ball you've most likely witnessed a shortened delivery. I won't go into too much detail over the delivery, just know that repeatability and quickness are important.

The non-throwing hand should be used to counterbalance the throwing hand. If you throw a football and don't raise your front hand in one way or another then this is probably your first time throwing a football. It's natural.

Pocket Movement and Manipulation: The ability to manipulate a pocket is crucial in today's game, and in my opinion it's undervalued by many who analyze quarterback play. There are many ways to manipulate and move within the pocket, the most basic of which is stepping up through the two rushing ends and into a new throwing lane. Subtle steps left and right can also be the difference between an incomplete pass and a clean, completed throw. This is one of the hardest things to teach a quarterback, because he has to be able to sense the rush and time when to make the movements. Stepping up at the wrong time will get you clocked; stepping sideways at the right time could change the angle between you and that mammoth defensive tackle, allowing the guard to regain position. Avoiding pressure is obviously paramount.

Assessing Robinson's Mechanics Against the Spartans

Denard went 14-of-29 passing for 163 yards against the Spartans. Each attempt is broken down in terms of mechanics, with a grade from 1 to 4 for each of the mechanics stated above. The scale goes as such:

  1. Textbook - This is clean, efficient and in no way lessens the efficiency of the pass.
  2. Acceptable - It isn't textbook and may have a slight inefficiency, but it's mostly sound.
  3. Inefficient - An inefficiency sicks out, most likely resulting in a poor throw.
  4. Poor - Most likely the result of breaking a cardinal rule. Almost certainly an incomplete pass.

The Breakdown

Now that we have the basic mechanics of a polished QB established you can begin to see them in action more easily. He actually graded out higher than I had anticipated in this game, but still threw quite a few balls that were inaccurate due to bad mechanics. Every play has a rating from 1 to 4 for his footwork, arm action and pocket movement, to go with his current completion-to-attempts. You can ignore the PMM rating if he hasn't held the ball long enough to feel pressure or is throwing a screen.

08:24 (complete, 1-of-1): A play like this is practiced time and time again. If you don't throw this with textbook mechanics you won't throw anything well. Robinson puts it straight into Gallon's chest.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: N/A]

06:42 (complete, 2-of-2): Pocket manipulation doesn't really exist here, as Robinson catches and immediately throws it outside to the tight end. He opens the hips well and places the feet, throwing an easy completion.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: 1]

05:37 (complete, 3-of-3): Hopping on his feet too much, and even though this is a screen it's still sloppy. The ball gets high on him and Fitz barely comes down with it.
[F: 3; AA: 3; PMM: N/A]

04:53 (complete, 4-of-4): Steps up into the pocket perfectly but once again gets sloppy on the delivery with his footwork. It's a short throw so it doesn't have a massive effect.
[F: 3; AA: 2; PMM: 1]

14:16 (complete, 5-of-5): Perfection. Stays just shallow enough to avoid having the ball stripped by the rush, plants and comes over the shoulder with a laser. The ball may have hit the top of Dileo's helmet had he not put his hands up.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: 1]

13:44 (incomplete, 5-of-6): Solid mechanics and little to no pressure. This is just a terrible read, plain and simple.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: 1]

13:39 (complete, 6-of-7): The footwork is fine but he's getting a bit too happy with the ball in his hands, slapping it against his non-throwing hand before winging it out to Smith. This isn't a major issue here but getting antsy with the ball like this can lead to bad deliveries on more serious throws.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: N/A]

12:52 (complete, 7-of-8): Plants and throws a strike directly into the chest of Dileo. He steps into the throw despite the pocket shrinking around him, which you'll see isn't always the case. Perfect here nonetheless.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: 1]

10:28 (incomplete, 7-of-9): Watch his front foot. He moves it back to throw off of his plant foot just before he releases the ball, watching as the ball sails far over everyone in the end zone. If he stays calm and keeps his front foot pointed this is a touchdown, but he instead feels the pressure and hesitates.
[F: 4; AA: 3; PMM: 3]

01:54 (complete, 8-of-10): Right back to perfection off of play action. He pulls the ball from Smith's gut, plants and delivers another ball on a line. This one would've caught Dileo in the chin.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: N/A]

01:20 (incomplete, 8-of-11): His mechanics are all sound but he's a touch late on the delivery and Allen nearly has himself an interception as a result of it.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: N/A]

01:18 (incomplete, 8-of-12): Sound mechanics but a poor choice to try a deep ball to Gardner here, who is well-covered.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: 1]

00:08 (incomplete, 8-of-13): He steps up well initially but fails to sidestep his own lineman, who's being pushed straight into Robinson. They collide and the ball comes out awkwardly. The situation at the end of the half renders this play moot.
[F: 2; AA: 3; PMM: 3]

12:22 (incomplete, 8-of-14): The pressure is coming and he feels it, rushing his front foot down and trying to aim the ball on the release. The result is a weak ball that lands at Roundtree's feet. Stepping into it gets him hit; it also gets the offense a fresh set of downs.
[F: 2; AA: 3; PMM: 2]

06:32 (incomplete, 8-of-15): Sound mechanics but it's tough to throw a slant here with the box so loaded.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: N/A]

06:28 (incomplete, 8-of-16): This is a tough play to make, and most QBs would be sacked anyway. He avoids the rush and steps up beautifully into the pocket, but he rocks hard into the throw, putting heavy weight on his back foot before transferring it all to the front. The ball comes out hot and misses Roundtree by a few inches.
[F: 2; AA: 1; PMM: 1]

04:36 (incomplete, 8-of-17): I won't give him a negative rating for sitting in the middle of a safe pocket, but a step right does open his throwing lane so I won't give him the 1 for PMM. The footwork and delivery are rushed but still clean.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: 2]

03:47 (incomplete, 8-of-18): Steps up through pressure once again before seeing Jackson down the field. This had a chance if Jeremy didn't spin around.
[F: 2; AA: 1; PMM: 1]

01:43 (incomplete, 8-of-19): It's hard to tell on this angle but it seems like his feet get a big too close for comfort, forcing him to twist hard in order to get the ball all the way down to Gardner. The DT is breathing on him and he doesn't have time to move and reset so he wings the ball, hitting Gardner in the hands. No idea how there wasn't a flag thrown for smashing Robinson in the head after the ball was gone.
[F: 2; AA: 2; PMM: 2]

01:35 (complete, 9-of-20): His footwork isn't bad but he tries to aim the ball again and he throws a bit too short to Fitz. This seems to be a trend on short throws when he isn't comfortable with a full delivery.
[F: 2; AA: 2; PMM: N/A]

00:58 (complete, 10-of-21): Bad footwork, throwing on a hop. He's a bit awkward on the delivery too, resulting in a throw that forces Roundtree to reach hard. If he's planted and delivers a strike this goes down to the 15, possibly more.
[F: 3; AA: 3; PMM: 1]

15:00 (complete, 11-of-22): He's opened up a bit too far and has to bring the hips into the equation, but the delivery is nice and it hits Funchess in stride.
[F: 2; AA: 1; PMM: 1]

13:47 (complete, 12-of-23): Doesn't set at all and is falling back on his back foot when he delivers it. The ball needs to be further toward the corner so Funchess doesn't have to take it away from the defender, but it comes down on top of the defender instead.
[F: 4; AA: 2; PMM: N/A]

13:44 (incomplete, 12-of-24): Yuck. He's parallel to Gallon on the throw and the ball ends up well behind the target, who is wide open between two zone defenders.
[F: 4; AA: 2; PMM: 2]

05:47 (incomplete, 12-of-25): Solid and should have been a completion or a pass interference call.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: 1]

03:20 (incomplete, 12-of-26): Steps up well but is rocking into the throw again, overshooting Jackson by a mile.
[F: 2; AA: 1; PMM: 1]

01:14 (incomplete, 12-of-27): Footwork isn't terrible but he's aiming the ball on a short route again. Smith has to fall in order to grasp it after the ball is tipped. I'm unsure if it would have been on the money or not, but it would have been easier for Smith to grab.
[F: 2; AA: 2; PMM: 1]

00:28 (complete, 13-of-28): Good mechanics, slow to read it.
[F: 1; AA: 1; PMM: 1]

00:18 (complete, 14-of-29): Yikes. I remember grimacing when he stepped awkwardly into this throw, but the end result was a completion. He does a good job of moving in the pocket to avoid a stunting Spartan. This leads to brunettes, and I am a happy man.
[F: 3; AA: 2; PMM: 1]


By my count there are 9* plays that include a rating of 3 or 4 in one of the three categories. Denard is an efficient passer when he's throwing quickly, but things get dicey when he is forced to move within the pocket. He often throws balls off of a hop when he's stepping up, and he isn't the greatest when it comes to stepping into throws when he feels pressure.

All of that was clear to everyone before, but what really frustrates me are the throws that can easily be thrown well, but are instead delivered with sloppy mechanics. The pass to Funchess in the end zone immediately comes to mind here. It's clear that Denard has made strides in the passing game since his freshman year, but there are still times when the game seems to move too fast for him, leading to awkward deliveries and frustrated receivers.

*Edit: Changed the number of ratings that include a 3 or 4 to a total of 9 after realizing that the late ball thrown to Smith was tipped at the line of scrimmage. The throw obviously would have been more accurate to some degree.