Michigan Football spring practice position preview: Running backs

Throughout the disappointing 7-6 season last year, the Michigan football team struggled mightily when running the ball. A lot of that blame goes to an offensive line that just couldn’t get it done up front. However, the running backs still could have done a better job.

Despite losing a couple guys, most notably Fitzgerald Touissant, the Wolverines return a lot of talent in the backfield in 2014. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has a lot to work with this season and the goal is to vastly improve on last season’s performance. Michigan wants to get back to running the football often and effectively, and it all starts with these guys.

Projected starters:

Derrick Green #27 (SO. 5-11, 240): Green came in as the highest-rated prospect in the country in 2013. The expectations have been high ever since he arrived in Ann Arbor, and will continue to be this season. 2013 was a rough year, but he showed brief flashes of greatness. Green will be called upon more often this season and will be one of Michigan’s primary running backs. Weighing in at 240, Brady Hoke wasn’t concerned about the weight last season. We will see if he decides to drop some weight during spring camp this year. Green is a power back, but with pretty good speed for his size. With Nussmeier in the fold, you’d have to bet on an improved 2014 season for Green.

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Derrick Green

De’Veon Smith #32 (SO. 5-11, 224): Smith came in a little under the radar last year, mostly in Derrick Green’s shadows. Despite this, Smith and Green had a similar amount of success, especially later in the season. Smith will likely be Michigan’s No. 2 back, behind Green, although they could swap starts. Again, with another year’s experience and a (hopefully) improved offensive line, Smith should be able to be more productive this year.

Key reserves:

Drake Johnson #20 (RS SO. 6-0, 213): Johnson missed the majority of the 2013 campaign when he tore his ACL early in the season. He was Michigan’s third first-year back that was expected to get a good amount of playing time, but obviously wasn’t able to. Johnson went to school across the street from Michigan Stadium at Ann Arbor Pioneer, so he has to have some extra motivation to get back into the swing of things. If he can come back strong, Johnson could prove to earn some big carries for the Wolverines this year.

Justice Hayes #5 (RS JR. 5-10, 192): Hayes was mostly a third down back last year, catching a few screens here and there. Outside of that, his role was very much limited. He could continue playing that role, but it has also been rumored that he could split out as a receiver in the slot. With Michigan losing a couple of their best receivers, it could make this switch that more likely.

Joe Kerridge and Sione Houma are Michigan’s returning fullbacks, but their spots remain a question at this point. With new offensive coordinator Nussmeier, their roles could be a little bit different in 2014. It’s too soon to speculate on what Michigan’s offense will look like, so we will leave it at that for now.

It was announced during the offseason that senior running back Thomas Rawls would be transferring to Central Michigan. Rawls didn’t get very many carries last season and decided it would be best to go elsewhere. This doesn’t really impact Michigan’s backs, as they already have a lot of talent in front of Rawls.

Related stories:

Michigan offensive line preview

Michigan defensive line preview

Michigan wide receivers/tight ends preview

Michigan quarterbacks preview

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