Michigan’s stable of running backs could be the deepest it has ever been going in to this season, and it’s pretty much a wide open race right now going in to camp for who will see the most carries. Whoever it ends up being, the rushing attack should be a major strength for the Wolverine offense in the 2013 season.
Starter: The photo above tells you all you need to know. Incoming freshman Derrick Green is a monster. While he probably shares carries to start the year, Green has the skills to separate himself from the pack and be a star for this team. He hasn’t played a snap of collegiate football yet, but I believe Derrick Green is built to be an every down back and be special right from the get go.
Green is exactly the type of back you picture when thinking of the offensive philosophy of Al Borges. He is a north/south runner that can run right through defenders with his power and also has good speed for a player his size. He also could be a factor in the passing game as well, as he has surprisingly good hands. Green is one of those runners that gets better as the game goes on because he just flat out wears down a defense. For as much variety as Michigan has to choose from there corps of running backs, Derrick Green is the most complete already, and should become the number-one guy fairly early in the season.
Backups: It almost feels like a slight to call this section “backups” because the guys behind Green are still very capable backs themselves, starting with redshirt senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who is coming off a broken leg in 2012, but appears ready to roll. A lot of people expect Fitz and Green to pretty much split carries early in the season, but I feel as if he will end up being that second guy pretty much from the start. Toussaint was an 1,000 yard rusher in 2011, so he is somewhat of a proven commodity. After his 2012 season ended prematurely, you know he will want to prove himself, especially if it’s between him and a true freshman. Green vs. Fitz should be a fun battle to watch, as the two should bring out the best in each other during the season.
The next guy who should be in line for carries is junior Thomas Rawls. Rawls is a power back who showed flashes of being a solid back last season, but never was really able to get it going due to what I believe was a poor fit in the offense they ran last year. Rawls was not a guy who was going to be a factor in a spread, read option offense, but that is no longer a concern. Al Borges finally gets to run the pro-style system after adapting to Denard Robinson the last two seasons, and Rawls should be much improved in this system. I see him as a short yardage, goal line back this year, but he is a sleeper in terms of what he can bring to the table.
Someone that I think has the potential to be the most dynamic playmaker of this group is sophomore Dennis Norfleet. He has a very productive spring, and is going to be a guy in this offense that plays the role of a Darren Sproles or Reggie Bush-type of back. Norfleet is a guy who should help out in all facets of the offense. I believe he will actually play some slot receiver this year as well. He may not get a ton of carries, but his impact will be felt on the field this year and I believe he is a sleeper going into 2013.
Another true freshman appears to be in the mix for carries as well in the form of DeVeon Smith. Smith is similar to Derrick Green in that he is a powerful runner who can run through tackles and rarely goes down when first touched. He has good size and could be a factor down the road this season.
Redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes is arguably the fastest back of this bunch. He has the potential to take the ball to the end zone on any given play. He really has to have a good camp to be in the mix, though. There is just too much at the top of this depth chart, so he is fighting an uphill battle from day one, but that is not a slight against his talent. Hayes is a guy that will contribute if given the chance.
Redshirt freshman Drake Johnson has impressed as well, and many have him rocketing up the depth chart. His performance in training camp is definitely worth paying attention to, as he could potentially make a splash this season.
With the return of the pro-style offense, the Wolverines are going to need someone to pave the way for their running game, and they have a solid group of players to help accomplish that.
There are three guys who are in the mix for the job. I think it comes down to redshirt sophomore Joe Kerridge and true sophomore Sione Houma. Kerridge played well last season in relief of Stephen Hopkins and should be the guy who gets first team snaps during camp and well into the season. Freshman Wyatt Shallman was one of the top fullbacks in the 2013 class, but will likely make his impact further down the road.
This is a great group of backs with a lot of guys that can contribute and have enormous potential in terms of what they can bring this team. I mentioned in the quarterback preview that these guys would combine to take the pressure off of Devin Gardner. Michigan’s running game is in good hands for years to come, and the man at the top of that list very well could end up being a star. Wolverine Nation certainly thinks he will.
The next installment of the Team 134 Preview Series will see us take a look at the guys who will directly pave the way for this group of backs, the fullbacks.
- Team 134 Preview: Quarterbacks (bleedbluerecruiting.com)