Quarterback battle heating up at Michigan

So will Tate Forcier be taking the first snap under center in Michigan’s season opener against Connecticut next fall?

Maybe, maybe not.

The incumbent starter is in a heated battle for the starting quarterback gig with fellow sophomore Denard Robinson and early enrollee Devin Gardner — and Saturday’s scrimmage did nothing but tighten the race even more.

Saying that the scrimmage was the team’s most important of the spring, head coach Rich Rodriguez is finally getting the healthy competition he wanted at the position as he enters his third and most important season in Ann Arbor. Each signal-caller is learning the entire offense — not specific plays catered to his strengths — which puts all three on an even playing field.

Bottom line: Let the best man win.

Last season, coaches trusted Forcier with the full playbook, and he experienced the ups and downs of playing the position as a young player.

He had a knack for making the big play and doing anything possible in order to win, as the Wolverines made a habit of pulling out thrilling victories in jumping out to a 4-0 start.

When conference play commenced, however, Forcier started to look more and more like a true freshman. Despite passing for 2,050 yards and 13 touchdowns, he finished ’09 with 10 interceptions and four fumbles and never looked entirely comfortable in the offense. He finished with five turnovers against Ohio State in the season finale.

Coordinator Calvin Magee and the offensive staff were forced to live with his improvisational ways, however, as Robinson didn’t have a good enough understanding of the scheme to supplant Forcier as the starter.

That’s not the case this spring.

A full offseason of re-learning the playbook has helped Robinson as he makes a push to overtake Forcier on the depth chart. Reduced to mainly being a running threat under center, Robinson did most of his damage on the ground last season — including a 43-yard touchdown on his first career touch against Western Michigan. He was just 14 of 31 through the air.

However, the emphasis he put on improving his mechanics has paid off this spring as he looks more the part of a quarterback than just an athlete, as he did last season.

On Saturday, Robinson finished 15 of 20 for 82 yards and one touchdown while adding 105 yards and two scores on 12 carries.

Forcier was 9 of 12 through the air for 88 yards and one rushing touchdown.

While Rodriguez has set no timetable on naming a starter, it’s evident that the tight competition has made all the quarterbacks better — including Gardner, who was 8 of 11 passing and rushed 10 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns in the second scrimmage of the spring.

“It’s a big benefit because waiting until August, it’s tough,” Gardner said of being on campus early. “If I would have [arrived] in the summertime, I might not have picked it up as quickly, but I’m picking it up quick, getting reps and doing well.”

Certainly, the Wolverines’ current situation at QB is in stark contrast to what Rodriguez dealt with throughout ’09. While the play of the defense will ultimately dictate the team’s success or failure, the production under center must improve next season if Rich Rod, who is just 8-16 at Michigan, expects to have a fourth season.

This weekend’s spring game at Michigan Stadium will provide another opportunity for each of the three signal-callers to convince the offensive staff that he’s the ready to take command of the huddle in the season opener — and give Rodriguez one less headache going into a make-or-break campaign.

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Update: Adding to the intrigue of this quarterback battle is a report from The Michigan Daily that Forcier walked to class around 10 a.m. EST Wednesday morning with crutches and wearing a black boot around his foot and ankle. Members of the media were allowed to watch practice on Tuesday from approximately 4:05 until 4:20, and Forcier was seen participating in drills and appeared fine. Rodriguez has not yet commented on this situation, so stay with the NFP as more information becomes available.

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