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August 29, 2012

Tide well-drilled on defending Robinson

TUSCALOOSA | Don't jump.

Don't blink.

And above all, don't abandon your post.

Those are the precepts that have been drilled into University of Alabama defenders as they prepare to face Michigan's dual-threat quarterback, Denard Robinson, in Saturday's season opener in Arlington, Texas.

How good is Robinson, and how difficult to defend? Alabama coach Nick Saban compared him not only to Auburn's 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, but also to the man considered to be the greatest basketball player of all time.

Saban called Robinson "as significant a player as we've played against maybe since Cam Newton," and also warned, "This guy will ball-fake you like Michael Jordan and take off running."

Robinson has passed for 4,931 yards in the past three seasons, with 40 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. He has rushed for 3,229 yards with 35 touchdowns. He has three career 300-yard passing games, including totals of 338 yards against Notre Dame and 337 against Northwestern last season. He ran for 170 yards against Ohio State last year and 258 against Notre Dame as a sophomore.

"He's super fast," Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said. "He doesn't get credit for how good he really is."

Alabama's plan begins with pass-rushers never leaving their feet, because Robinson's ability to fake a pass and then move around in the pocket can break defenses down.

"A lot of times, different than some guys who are athletic, he extends the plays and makes big plays throwing it," Saban said.

"He doesn't just take off and run like some guys do. He extends the play and keeps his eyes down the field. He has gotten pretty good at doing that and has gotten a lot of big plays doing that."

Alabama's defensive backfield has to cover receivers but also be ready for run support when Robinson chooses to freelance. The trick is to stay with the receiver until Robinson crosses the line of scrimmage, because he is willing to sling it on the run if he sees a receiver make a late break to get open.

"Just know that he can scramble out of the pocket and extend plays and make plays," safety Robert Lester said. "Just be fundamentally sound. We're going to do our job, that's what we're supposed to do. We've got to trust that the (defensive) line and the linebackers are going to do their job and contain him and rush him.

"Every game we play, there's certain things that we key. We read run-pass. To be quicker on the run if it's a run, it brings more to the table in being able to stop it."

Saban wants Alabama to pressure Robinson without letting him escape. Success, he said, will depend upon "decision-making, leveraging the quarterback, pushing the pocket, not losing contain, staying on your feet."

In short, if Alabama cannot lasso Robinson, it at least needs to keep him corralled.

"No doubt about it," defensive lineman Damion Square said. "You don't want that guy to make plays happen, try to stop his feet and stop keep him in the pocket and do a good job up front, so that the guys in the secondary don't have to worry about coming up and breaking coverage."

Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.

DUAL THREATS
Here's a look at how the University of Alabama has fared against some top dual-threat quarterbacks in recent seasons:
Year QB Team Pass Run
2008 Tim Tebow Florida 14-22-0, 216 yards, three TDs 57 yards
2009 Tim Tebow Florida 20-35-1, 247 yards, one TD 63 yards
2009 Tyrod Taylor Virginia Tech 9-20-0, 91 yards -26 yards
2010 Jeremiah Masoli Ole Miss 18-40-1, 110 yards, one TD 40 yards
2010 Chris Relf Mississippi State 8-16-1, 70 yards 7 yards
2010 Cam Newton Auburn 13-20-0, 216 yards, three TDs 39 yards, one TD



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