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The Running Backs

August 24, 2010

In the past when Michigan had graduated senior running backs, there was a sense of “what are we going to do now that X is gone?”.   We had grown accustomed to guys like Chris Perry, Mike Hart, and Anthony Thomas, and when they were gone, there was always a question mark of who would step up.  No offense to Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, as they both had their moments, but the void they left upon graduation seems relatively replaceable as we head into 2010.  To be fair, part of it is because neither Minor nor Brown were ever healthy enough to be a reliable “go-to” guy like the guys who came before them.  But the other reason for a lack of concern is that the cupboard is pretty full with guys who are ready to assume the starting running back job. 

The most likely candidate to start is Vincent Smith, a sophomore who gained almost 300 yards last year as the third option at running back.  Smith suffered a torn ACL in the last game of the season, but by all accounts is almost back to 100% and has looked great in fall camp.  Smith is small, fast and shifty, but also has some power as well. 

The other returning player with experience is junior Michael Shaw.  Two years ago, Shaw actually started against Utah.  He’s battled injuries his first two years, but was an All-American sprinter in high school, and is someone who could be very dangerous in this offense if he can stay healthy.  Shaw has also had some academic difficulties, and may not be eligible this fall. 

Another guy who should get some carries is Michael Cox.  Cox really only saw mop up duty last year, but he had a good spring while Smith was recovering from his knee injury.  Cox’s main problem is that he’s too inconsistent, something the coaches won’t put up with.  He’s bigger than Smith, and therefore may be more likely to see time in short yardage situations. 

Finally, there are two young guys, who like Devin Gardner at QB, may be too good to keep off of the field.  The first, is redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint.  Fitz came in with a decent amount of fanfare last year, but injured his shoulder early on and was redshirted.  He’s looked good during fall camp, and has a combination of speed and power that reminds some of Tim Biakabatuka.  The other guy to watch out for is frosh Stephen Hopkins,  who has already drawn comparisons to Brandon Minor for his running style.  Like Minor, a lot of people though Hopkins was suited for fullback at this level, but his combination of power and speed make him a great asset when he gets ahead of steam going.  Hopkins has been very solid during fall camp, and should see the field at some point. 

Much like in 2004, when we were replacing Chris Perry without an heir apparent, there is a lot of talent, but no clear cut leader to start at running back.  Of course we can hope to be as lucky as we were in ’04 when Mike Hart stepped up to claim the starting job.  Its unlikely that will happen this time around, mostly because this staff prefers a running back by committee approach.  Expect to see all 5 of these guys see carries at first, but eventually I imagine we will have a 3 back rotation. 

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