This is part five of our Michigan Football 2014 season preview series. This edition will take an in depth look at the running backs, a young group that will now be headlined by Drake Johnson and De’veon Smith, since Fitzgerald Touissant left. Part three focused on wide receivers and tight ends and part four focused on the linebackers.
What we know
The Wolverines struggled in running the ball last season. Now with Fitzgerald Touissant gone, it’s time for the other talent to step up. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will be working closely with these players so that they can run the ball with an impact.
At Michigan football media day on August 10th, coach Brady Hoke announced that sophomores Drake Johnson and De’veon Smith are currently the top two running backs. As a freshman, Smith appeared in four games as a reserve, gathering 26 carries for a total of 117 yards. Last season, Johnson tore his ACL after the first game, so it’s good to know that he is returning healthy and ready to start this season. RS junior Joe Kerridge and junior Sione Houma are returning fullbacks who will add increasing experience to this position. Both standing 6-0 and just over 240 pounds, their strong build will give them an edge as the primary lead blockers at this position.
Areas of concern
We still don’t know if incoming transfer Ty Isaac will be eligible to play this season. As a freshman at USC, Isaac carried the ball 40 times and compiled 236 yards. He would make a great addition and add a lot of variety to the running backs if he gains eligibility this season.
Going into last season sophomore Derrick Green stood 5-11 and 240 pounds, which is a bit heavy for a running back, but he still made an impact by appearing in 13 games. At media day Hoke reported that Green looks a lot different than a year ago, but also announced that he will be the number two running back. This makes me question if his new physique is benefitting him or holding him back? Or maybe the internal competition at this position is just really strong, in which case that would be a positive.
Potential breakout player
I’m going to go with De’veon Smith on this one. I figure that last season he was overshadowed by Green, but he obviously developed a lot during spring training and camps allowing him to improve enough to beat Green to become a starter this season. A little internal competition is good, and I think he will be motivated to outshine his talented counterparts this season. During media day, Hoke reported that Smith’s identity is his toughness. I think his toughness will shine this season and he will stand out as a dependable player.
De’veon Smith #4 (SO, 5-11, 220)
Drake Johnson #20 (RS SO, 6-0, 211)
Derrick Green #27 (SO, 5-11, 220)
*Ty Isaac #32 (SO, 6-3, 225)
Joe Kerriidge #36 (RS JR, 6-0, 244)
Sione Houma #39 (JR, 6-0, 242)
Key reserves: Justice Hayes, Ross Douglas
If Isaac is able to receive a hardship waiver from the NCAA, I really think that coach Nussmeier will have a lot of talent to work with this season. I am more confident in this position this year and expect to see a huge improvement from last season. Especially with all the internal competition, the running backs this year will be at the top of their game, hopefully translating that motivation onto the field.
*Isaac may or may not be eligible to play this season yet.
Check out our Michigan Football team page as we continue to preview each position group.
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