Friday, August 31, 2012

IU's Roberson ‘Hungry’ For Elite Quarterback Success

Be honest. Was there ANYBODY who thought Tre Roberson would not be Indiana’s starting quarterback for Saturday night’s season opener against Indiana State? Was there any way a junior college transfer (Cameron Coffman) or a true freshman (Nate Sudfeld) was going to beat out a guy as talented and tough-minded as Roberson?

In truth, not a chance.

Roberson is a dual-threat guy who embraced the competition because he knew if he wanted to be one of the better Big Ten quarterbacks, and he does, he sure as heck had better beat out Coffman and Roberson, who remind no one of, say, Michigan’s Denard Robinson.

Kevin Wilson challenged him because that’s what he does with all his players, especially his best players. He sets high standards and Roberson –- unlike, say, veteran running back Stephen Houston -- met them.

“Tre understands how hard he needs to work to be the starting quarterback,” quarterbacks coach Kevin Johns says, “and really not just the starting quarterback, but an All-Big Ten level quarterback. He wants that. He’s hungry for that. It’s our job to show him what he has to do.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked to do at this point. His arm has gotten stronger. His release has gotten quicker. He’s learned how to play with his feet apart. He’s come a long way.”

Now it’s time to show it in a game.

“I think I’ve progressed pretty well,” Roberson says. “I’m handling myself better. I’m more confident. I’m throwing the ball better. I’m more confident in pass game and doing what I’m supposed to do.”

As a true freshman last season Roberson completed 57 percent of his passes for 937 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions. He has to be better than that this season. If he’s not, IU is looking at another 1-11 season. It’s that simple.

Yes, Roberson is a strong runner who can turn a busted play into a big play in an instant. He rushed for 426 yards and two touchdowns last season, but as the Philadelphia Eagles’ Michael Vick can tell you, a running quarterback is an injury waiting to happen. Figure Roberson will run more out of necessity than because of called running quarterback plays.

“You don’t want your quarterback to get hit a lot,” Johns says. “I don’t know how many designed run plays for him there will be. Now when the play breaks down and he takes off and runs, that’s something different.

“We want him to be confident and comfortable in throwing the ball.”

So Roberson spent the spring, summer and preseason camp working hard to improve his accuracy under the direction of Wilson, Johns and offensive coordinator Seth Littrell. The goal is to get Roberson close to 70 percent on completions.

“I need to get more efficient passing, and that’s what I worked on all camp,” Roberson says. “Listening to Coach Wilson, Coach Johns and Coach Littrell made me better.”

What was their message?

“Tre and I had a conversation to make sure you come to work every day with that look in your eye, ready to go, and lead this offense,” Johns says. “At quarterback you have to know your position so well that you don’t have to think so you can lead everybody else. What happens at quarterback is that if you’re thinking, you’re not leading.

“Tre has made sure he knows what he’s doing at such a high level that now, he’s a tremendous leader. He can let those leadership qualities come out.”

As far as improving his accuracy, Roberson says he’s focused “on everything.”

“My technique, keeping the ball high, aim for a little strike point every time. That will improve my accuracy.”

As far as that near-70-percent on completed passes, Johns calls it “very doable.”

“We’re trying to be very basic and simple with our pass concepts, and make it so he’s confident in his reads. If he uses the proper football and mechanics, he should be able to do that.”

The key, Roberson says, is “knowing the game plan every week, being under control and playing football.

“Knowing the playbook more in depth and what I’m doing makes everything slow down. You always want the ball out quicker. You don’t want the guys to block forever if they don’t have to.”

IU faces an Indiana State team that, just a few years ago, was probably the worst program in America regardless of division. It was so bad the program was in danger of being dropped. But coach Trent Miles arrived five years ago and turned it around. The Sycamores have gone 6-5 the last two seasons and are set to make a run at a Missouri Valley title.

The Hoosiers, Roberson insists, will not be over-confident.

“They’re feisty. They have real good players. They’re everywhere in the secondary. They’ll be a good match-up.”

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