We know the offensive line sets the tone, the receivers are deep and the quarterbacks are dynamic. What we don’t know is who will emerge as Michigan’s starting running back. The position was wide open heading into spring practice and it remains that way as the team transitions to summer workouts. The last time the position was this uncertain was back in 2004 when David Underwood was expected to beat out Tim Bracken, Jerome Jackson, Pierre Rembert and two freshmen named Max Martin and Mike Hart. Nobody expected much out of Hart that year, except for maybe a redshirt season. Instead the 5 backs not named Mike Hart combined for 412 yards and 4 TDs and Hart rushed for 1,455 yards and 9 TDs on his way to becoming one of the greatest running backs in school history.
So whatever you think you know about the running back position this year, you can pretty much throw it out the window. The best approach is to see how things develop in fall practice, but most importantly to wait and see who will rise to the top once the season kicks off.
Is the next great Michigan running back somewhere within this stable of Wolverines?
- Mike Shaw (Jr) 6-1, 180: With 84 career carries for 400 yards and 2 TDs, Shaw is Michigan’s most experienced back. He has speed, but has been hampered by injuries throughout his tenure as a Wolverine. What he didn’t do this spring was separate himself from the pack. Instead of seizing control of the job he left the door open for somebody to come in and take it. The problem is nobody has done that…yet.
- Mike Cox (RS So) 6-0, 210: Cox has a good blend of speed and power. He is quick through the hole and doesn’t go down on first contact. What’s holding him back is his grasp on the intricacies of the offense.
- Fitzgerald Toussaint (RS Fr) 5-10, 200: Once he got healthy (shoulder injury) last year word is he was impressive working with the scout team. Fitz is a shifty and powerful runner who many thought could be the guy. However, he had an up and down spring and did little to stake his claim to the starting spot.
- Stephen Hopkins (Fr) 6-0, 230: An early enrollee, Hopkins took full advantage of the opportunity to participate in spring practice. He established himself as a legitimate contender for playing time this year. He is a big back and also has good hands and surprising speed. “Not only is he tough and big,” said Mike Shaw. “He’s exceptionally fast for his size.”
- Vincent Smith (So) 5-6, 170: Smith appeared in 9 games last year and opened eyes with his performance against Ohio State. He rushed for 32 yards and tallied another 28 yards and a TD through the air against the Buckeyes. Unfortunately he also tore his ACL in that game. Smith missed spring practice as he continues to recover from the injury. A popular sentiment among Wolverine faithful is that a healthy Smith will be Michigan’s starting running back.
- Austin White (Fr) 6-0, 190: White appears destined for a redshirt, but a strong summer combined with a good fall camp could certainly vault him into the mix. He is a speed back and like Hopkins was an early enrollee.
My projected starter:
RB: Mike Shaw
Backed up by: Vincent Smith and Mike Cox.
Shaw’s combination of speed and hands combined with his experience in the system make him the safe choice here. The question with Shaw is will he be healthy?
Notes: I don’t expect Michigan to use many sets involving a fullback. Mark Moundros saw the writing on the wall and moved to linebacker. That leaves Jon McColgan as the only fullback on the roster.
There is a theory out there that Michigan’s best running back is Denard Robinson and perhaps he should line up at RB with Forcier at QB. I don’t disagree that Robinson is Michigan’s best back, but I don’t think the coaches are ready to give up on his prospects at QB just yet.