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2012 Michigan Football Preview – Quarterbacks, Running Backs and Fullbacks

August 30, 2012

Quarterbacks:

Starter: Denard Robinson (SR)

Backups: Devin Gardner (JR) and Russell Bellomy (RS FR)

For the first time since perhaps Tom Brady and Drew Henson rotated snaps to see who got to play the 2nd half, Michigan has legitimate depth at the quarterback position.  The star of course is All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate Denard Robinson.  As the 2011 team MVP, Denard will once again be expected to be the team’s most valuable player and leader.  And despite leading Michigan to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl victory, Denard’s stats actually took a step backward last year, as he completed a lower percentage of passes, had less rushing and passing yards, and threw more interceptions in 2011 than he did in 2010.  The decrease in overall yardage was actually a good thing, as Michigan developed an offense that was more focused on shared responsibility, but the decrease in completion percentages and increase in interceptions do create some concern.  The hope here is that Denard was just adjusting to Al Borges new offensive scheme and it took him awhile to get the kinks worked out.  Though he struggled in the Sugar Bowl, his final two regular season games against OSU and Nebraska were two of his best as he completed over 70% of his passes and threw for 5 touchdowns and only 1 interception.  The bottom line on Denard is that he’ll never be a stellar passer.  But his ability to make plays with his feet and lead this team are what make him so special.  Despite the aforementioned depth, Michigan will only go as far in 2012 as Denard Robinson can take them.

As for the backups, Devin Gardner looked good at times last year and would probably be the starter if it wasn’t for a Heisman Trophy caliber player starting ahead of him.  Gardner will also be playing wide receiver this year as he’s too good of an athlete to keep off of the field.  Hopefully this doesn’t hurt his development as a QB.  If Denard does go down, Gardner is more than capable of stepping in to fill his shoes.   There is no QB controversy, but we will see Devin under center occasionally throughout the year.

In regard to Russell Bellomy, the word out of spring practice is that this former 3 star recruit could actually be the QB of the future.  With 5 star Shane Morris coming to campus next fall, its unlikely Bellomy will be more than a career backup, but those in the know say we shouldn’t count him out.  The fact that the staff is letting Devin Gardner play wide receiver and opening him to potential injury speaks volumes about their confidence in Bellomy should they need him.

Running Backs

Projected Starter: Fitzgerald Toussaint (SR) OR Thomas Rawls (SO)

Backups: Vincent Smith (SR), Justice Hayes (SO)

Fitzgerald Toussaint had a breakout 2011 season as he was the first Michigan running back since Mike Hart in 2007 to rush for over 1,000 yards.  The junior was poised to have another huge season before his off the field trouble put that all in jeopardy.  His DUI arrest left him suspended for the first week of fall practice and unlikely to play in the opener against Alabama.  That line of thinking may have changed as Fitz is back practicing with the team, though it appears he is still in the doghouse as Thomas Rawls is getting the majority of the carries.

Running backs coach Fred Jackson loves Rawls, and has even hinted that but for a fall camp should injury last year, he would’ve won the starting job outright as a freshman.  Though we’ll never know if that were the case, Rawls will get his chance to wrestle the starting job away from Toussaint now.  Though I expect we’ll see Rawls start the opener against Alabama, don’t be surprised if Toussaint finishes it.  The beauty of Toussaint and Rawls is that they are very different backs, with Toussaint representing the speed and quickness, with Rawls taking more of a bowling ball approach.  There’s no reason they can’t co-exist in this offense.

After Rawls and Toussaint, the likely candidate to see the field in a variety of ways his third down back Vincent Smith.  He’s a tough runner, a great blocker and a solid receiver.  In a lot of ways, he’s my favorite of the backs because of his versatility.

The final back who is potentially in the mix is Justice Hayes.  Hayes redshirted last year, but could see some carries in mop up duty, or if injuries push us down the depth chart.

FULLBACK

Starter: Stephen Hopkins (Jr)

Backup: Joe Kerridge (So)

Converted running back Stephen Hopkins embraced the fullback role last year as Michigan moved from a pure spread attack into a hybrid spread and pro set offense. With no true fullbacks recruited, Hopkins, the biggest of the backs, made the transition once it was apparent he was not going to be the starting running back.  Having Hopkins in this role is a nice luxury, because he has playmaking ability despite the fact that most of his time will be spent blocking.

Kerridge is a walk-on who will fill in as needed, but won’t see the field unless there is an injury.

STRENGTHS

There is no doubt the strength of this offensive backfield is depth.  With two very solid options at quarterback and three capable running backs, Michigan will hopefully not be one play away from disaster.  That being said, the biggest strength of this backfield is Denard Robinson and how far he can take Michigan.  One injury to Denard probably takes this season from a potential Big Ten title to middling New Year’s Day Bowl game.

WEAKNESSES

Besides the ability to make proper life decisions by Fitzgerald Toussaint, the weakness of this offensive backfield is probably continuity.  Though Gardner and Denard are both mobile quarterbacks, they have very different styles, and replacing one with the other could be a problem.  Factor in that Gardner is spending the majority of his time at receiver and the question of what happens when Denard gets hurt is still an issue.  At running back, with Toussaint, Rawls and Smith all bringing something different to the table, the ability of the offensive line, receivers and quarterbacks to adjust on the fly may cause some hiccups early on.

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