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IN MAY, AS PART OF COACH BRADY HOKE'S LEADERSHIP PROGRAM, 22 Wolverines seniors headed to Southern California. During the three-day trip they ran a youth football camp in Pasadena, went through four hours of drills with Navy SEALs in Newport Beach and partook of daily leadership seminars. Senior quarterback Denard Robinson came away with this lesson: "To be a partner in the business world, you have to learn how to take a backseat sometimes."
Make no mistake: Shoelace will not shirk his starring role. The offensive dynamo who accounted for 7,621 total yards and 68 touchdowns over the past two seasons remains the axis of the Wolverines' attack. But his words seem apt given that he has found a welcome running mate in the form of 5' 10", 195-pound tailback Fitz Toussaint, a shifty runner who down the stretch last season had four games of 120 yards or more. Toussaint's emergence could ease the burden on his quarterback. "If we can cut down a bit on Denard's reps at times as far as rushes go," says Hoke, "I think it [will help] him with staying healthy."
The aid Robinson will get from his receivers is less certain. Gone (to the NFL's Chiefs) is top target Junior Hemingway, leaving senior Roy Roundtree and diminutive junior Jeremy Gallon to fill the void. After a spring spent working on timing routes and developing chemistry, Robinson thinks they will be up to the task. For his part, Robinson has concentrated on not throwing off his back foot and on stepping toward his target in hopes of cutting down on the 15 interceptions he tossed last season. He's also one of many Wolverines growing more comfortable in second-year coordinator Al Borges's pro-style offense. "Last year we were crawling," Robinson says. "Now we're walking and starting to run."
Defensively, Hoke expects even better from a unit sprinkled with seniors such as linebacker Kenny Demens, safety Jordan Kovacs and end Craig Roh, which allowed the second-fewest points in the Big Ten last fall. "Defense has always been a priority at Michigan," Hoke says, "and we want to sustain the quality." He also is clear about his goal for his second season at the helm: a Big Ten title. With an improved Robinson and the help around him, this year's seniors might well be headed for a return trip to Pasadena.
COACH Brady Hoke (2nd year) 11--2 (6--2 in Big Ten)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Al Borges
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Greg Mattison
2011 RECORD 11--2 (6--2, 2nd in Legends Division)