November 10, 2012; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (28) avoids a tackle by Northwestern Wildcats linebacker Damien Proby (46) to run for a touchdown in the third quarter at Michigan Stadium. Michigan won 38-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Football: Coach's Corner -- Running Backs -- The Stable -- High Hopes

Posted at 7:15am — 7/27/2013

Michigan Football: Coach’s Corner — Running Backs — The Stable — High Hopes

Michigan Enters 2013 With Question Marks But High Hopes At Running Back.

Except for Denard Robinson, there was not much success running the ball in 2012. Denard is gone to Jacksonville and three of last year’s offensive linemen have graduated. Michigan returns two high-end bookend tackles and will replace the entire inside with young players with minimal game experience.

Even the once a decade running back appreciates a high level of performance from offensive linemen. The average to above average backs MUST have a high level of performance from offensive linemen to succeed at a meaningful level.

There is no secret that offensive line success is linked to running back success.

Michigan has a sufficiently deep stable of running backs, but the cohort group has an abundance of question marks. The development of this stable into productive ground gainers will be as important to Michigan’s success this year as Devein Gardner’s development as a passer.

Al Borges is settling down the chemistry to incorporate a modified west coast offense that fits the traditional mold of pro style and power football.

Leading the stable, through experience, is Fitz Toussaint. He certainly had a successful sophomore season, but could not find many holes to bust north and south last year before the nasty injury against Iowa. There has been thorough discussion up and down the line that Fitz will be ready. This could very well happen. He has always been a hard worker and is a better than average Division One back. Fitz still dances, but he dances less.

November 17, 2012; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Thomas Rawls (38) runs the ball against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the second quarter at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After this, the question mark scenario pours forth. Some have already penciled in the freshmen here; they will be discussed later.

Thomas Rawls has had good chances to make progress in the last two years, with mixed results. Thomas is a bowling ball at over 215 pounds. Backs like Rawls were made to run north and south. As such he needs push from the offensive line. Thomas seems to like running in the C gap on the right side. He is not a great producer on short yardage, but has only been given limited opportunities. His vision and footwork in the hole can probably best be described as average. But he is making progress.

Justice Hayes is the fastest back in Michigan’s stable. He is now around 190 pounds. Justice clearly has made progress in the last twelve months, the question remains is the progress sufficient? His running between the tackles has improved, but the Michigan offense still has problems getting Justice outside where he could best use his speed.

Local product, Drake Johnson, is another Wolverine that has drawn some recent praise. He is a nice combination of size and speed, but has not yet proven anything against an opposing team of any level. Red-shirting was an obvious choice to develop the young back. Now, the next two years will determine if he has the stuff to see the field. Drake appears to have some good feet, a nice luxury for a big back.

The two freshmen, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, are heralded but unproven. It is very different having college defenders with size and speed chasing you rather than running against high school opponents on Friday nights. But both backs appear to have excellent work ethic.

Both of the freshmen were stung by sites referring to them as slow or at the least no extra gear speed and have worked hard on speed improvement. Green appears to be a power back with enough jets to hit the house on breakaways now and then. But Michigan recruited him to be an every down difference maker. His balance and footwork is pretty strong. Strength wise Green is far advanced from the typical entering freshman running back.

Smith is not as fast, but he is as strong as Babe the Blue Ox and has exceptional balance. If a line allows Smith to run north and south to the second level, the defense has some problems. Smith is simply very tough to bring down.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff

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