I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
Green / Grady / Woodson
Like many of my generation, I had a little thing when Ace finally posted the long-awaited Hello: Derrick Green post. Like he was all…
And the board was all…
And even Magnus was all…
And I was all…well, nothing that would make for an interesting gif. You kids won't remember this but we've had a five-star tailback commit before. And we got really excited. Like We Beat the Russians to the Moon, except fast-excited. And that was right before a Des-pose'd NCAA 2006 arrived with a new mode where you create a freshman and run him to a Heisman. We were all Grady.
But we were all of us deceived.
The high schooler who plowed through the state turned out to be Thomas Rawls except not fast. Grady was given a lot of chances, especially early, but peaked as a fumble-prone, #2 guy to Hart. The meat of his career was spent nursing an ACL tear that won him his medical redshirt, and flirting with the edge of the Darryl Stonum outer boundary of tolerable off-the-field stuff. He finished his eligibility as a fullback in the 2009 outfit with 783 yards, a 3.9 YPC and 10 TDs.
That's a respectable enough career for a blue collar fullback, but not a blue chip. It's also way too small a sample size to justify acting like a wet blanket over Michigan's first five-star RB since the first Grady.
It is well to remember that we had a lot of highly rated backs before stars became a thing, for example Charles Woodson was one according to a Lloyd interview on one of the videotapes I bought when the video store in the Union closed. A-Train was Prep Football Report's #2 back in the nation. Wheatley in high school was the best all-around athlete the state of Michigan had seen since Harmon. Tom Harmon…well this is why we keep things to recent memory. What we need is more samples. To the rest of the NCAA!
(…where gordie bell just traveled, kinda. His stuff is just off Rivals, and includes four-stars, and is mostly a bunch of lists. Aw heck just read both. And JUMP)
John T. Greilick|DetNews
This does not a happy Hoke make (2012 stats so far):
Here's Hoke on that in the Monday presser:
Looking at the running game, were there different holes for Denard than for Fitz?
“Well some is we couldn’t get Fitz started. They ran 30 times fire zones -- run fire zones, which they never were that big a team. We call them sharks and stuff like that. But it was a little different. It was a little different. Never could get him started. Some of it we have to block better, some of it on some of the reads, maybe he should have kept the ball twice in there, but I think some of it goes down to number one what we were trying to do, giving Denard the ball, and secondly blocking better. And then you’ve got to give them a little credit, too.”
Throw a dart at a row of newsstands within 400 miles of Ann Arbor and you'll probably puncture a sentence telling the Michigan running backs to step it up. If you do the same with the blogosphere it'll stick in some guy who won't notice because he is running around in panic over all non-Lewan OL. Other potential targets include the "Most of that is Alabama" couch, the floor of "Toussaint only played one game and they took him away by alignment," the wall of "it's early in the season," the "Denard missed some reads" chair, or maybe the "Mealer <<<<(!!!) Molk" bookshelf you just bought at Ikea and discovered to your horror you can't return or reassemble even though you're pretty sure you mixed up two of those bolt-thingies and this is why it keeps coming apart.
This Ikea metaphor for the offensive line is worth exploring but not this moment. This moment I want to figure out which of the above targets are actually getting the most hits, i.e. why aren't the running backs getting any traction?
Instructions after THE JUMP
Rating: 4.5 of 5.
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||Jr.*||Stephen Hopkins||Jr.||Vincent Smith||Sr.|
|Thomas Rawls||So.||Sione Houma||Fr.||Justice Hayes||Fr.*|
|Drake Johnson||Fr.||Joe Kerridge||Fr.*||Dennis Norfleet||Fr.|
|FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET THIS MAN A SLIPPERY JERSEY|
|MAKES YOU MISS|
|jukes three Gophers|
|cuts all the way back|
|stop and go six|
|ONE CUT AND GO|
|finds a gap on power|
|simply outruns Purdue|
|hits the edge vs UNL|
|NOT SMITH AS A BLOCKER|
|crappy cut block|
|find a man, man|
|WILL MISS A CUT OR TWO|
|wrong side of Schofield|
Fitzgerald Toussaint spent his first couple years at Michigan as china in a bull shop, laid up with various injuries that prevented his considerable talent from seeing the field. This did not prevent Fred Jackson from calling him both "Mike Hart but fast" and "Chris Perry but fast." God bless Fred Jackson.
In 2011 his bones and joints mended as Thomas Rawls's failed him at an inopportune time and Toussaint was thrown into a three-way battle with Vincent Smith and Mike Shaw for the starting job, one that last year's edition of this post hoped (and predicted) he would win:
Toussaint seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. … Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
Bumps and bruises continued to dog him (he missed the ND game and his inexplicable two carries against MSU almost has to be injury related) but Toussaint actually delivered on Jackson's hyperbole.
He kind of is Mike Hart, but fast:
"full on Hart déjà vu," I said
Juking in a phone booth was Hart's specialty. Toussaint has that and sprinter's speed. As a bonus, he didn't fumble in 187 carries last year. He only lacks Hart's pile-pushing doggedness.
After the inexplicable MSU game, he blew up. His first 20-carry game was the next week against Purdue; he smoked five different Boilers on his signature run of 2011…
…and ended up with 170 yards. The offense imploded the next week and took Toussaint with it, but after that he laid waste: 192 yards against Illinois, 138 against Nebraska, and 120 against Ohio State. (Then the offense imploded again.)
At season's end Toussaint had become Michigan's first 1,000 yard back since Hart and at 5.8 YPC its most efficient since Tim Biakabutuka was going ham on Ohio State in 1995. When he wasn't going off during his second half surge, it was because the walls were coming down around him and there was nowhere to go.
He is legit. He runs between the tackles, finding a crack and jetting straight upfield when it's there. He is a decisive cutter with good vision. When it's not there he can stutter-step and bounce outside. Once in the secondary his change of direction often leaves safeties flapping in his wake. If there's a downside it's a spotty blocking record and not much activity in the passing game (just six catches a year ago), but those are things that Michigan can fix as time goes by.
Toussaint would enter 2012 with a rock-solid lock on the job but for that offseason DUI, which should see him miss the Alabama game. (That assumption may be dubious given the depth chart, but I'm still guessing he gets the standard one game DUI suspension.) That gives Thomas Rawls a crack at the job, and the two subsequent games should be comfortable enough that Toussaint will get eased back into the lineup. By the time ND rolls around, he should resume his place as the feature back.
Toussaint's raw numbers won't reach Hart levels because of the suspension, the guy next to him in the backfield, and the potential emergence of Rawls, but a replica of last season beckons, plus 40 or 50 carries. He'll be All Big Ten caliber even if he doesn't get on the list.
[hit THE JUMP for the rest of the cast of characters.]
A-Train, Perry, Hart. Photos archived from MGoBlue.com
Here is what has Michigan football fans all aflutter this week: With two 4-star running backs committed to our class, do we still have room for a 5-star running back? #firstworldproblems. Since this is our concern, I thought we'd take a look at the prospective depth charts that past Michigan RBs committed to and see if the prospective mountain for 2013 prospects is any harder than the typical Michigan starting tailback's, prospectively speaking.
When the next class arrives in 2013 Toussaint and Hopkins—a permanent fullback I mention because he's the B.J. Askew type of fullback who will eat up carries—will be seniors, and Vincent Smith will be gone. Barring attrition, the next generation, i.e. the guys an additional 2013 commit should expect to be competing with, will then look something like this:
- Thomas Rawls, Junior
- Justice Hayes, RS Sophomore
- Drake Johnson, RS Freshman
- Dennis Norfleet, RS Freshman or Soph.
- Wyatt Shallman, Freshman
- Deveon Smith, Freshman
Three RBs in the 2013 class gives us potentially five freshmen competing for carries with a sophomore and a junior. "Barring attrition" would almost be a fool's gamble given the history of the position in all my years of following Michigan, except Hoke's program has so far (very small sample) been actually kind of remarkable in holding onto guys—policy is to give them all the benefit of the doubt.
Anyway we have the dudes; if Iowa RBHG gets bored one day he will find too many sacrifices for even his mighty, smite-y hand. This means Michigan is doubtful to take any more add-on running backs to pack the roster unless they or someone on the list is switching to defense. However there is absolutely room—even a need perhaps—for a high-profile back in this class.
The recruiting profiles of a lot of these guys suggests any could be beatable by a hypothetical freshman 5-star. Norfleet and Johnson were both very under-the-radar guys. The former and Justice Hayes are more like scat-backs who could as easily end up as slot-kick returners (though from yesterday's Spring video it looked like Hayes has bulked up a bit since last year, or else someone else is wearing 5. Insiders?). Asking if Shallman is really a running back is entering the realm of media cottage industry. Rawls is so Kevin Grady. At this point Smith is a 4-star to Scout, an Anton Campbell Memorial "no idea, but I guess he committed to Michigan" 3-star to Rivals and a guy named Smith to the other sites. Throw a dart at that group in two years and you could hit anything from (respectively) Mark Ingram/Steve Breaston/Barry Sanders/Mike Hart/Ron Dayne/Eddie George Except Faster to six Brackenses.
Of all positions tailback seems the most freshman-friendly, so it's not as necessary to stockpile today for 2017. On the other hand if you look at Michigan history the lesson is MOAR TAILBACKS. In fact Michigan's great running backs of the last two decades have mostly committed to apparent depth charts way more jammed with highly rated players and established starters:
The thing that's readily apparent is the youth. Michigan averaged about two recruits per year at RB, and graduated one a year. Some didn't move far—Chris Floyd, B.J. Askew, and more recently Stephen Hopkins switched to a type of ball-carrying fullback. A good many switched to defense. A good many quit the team too. But look at the depth charts so many highly rated backs committed to:
- Tshimanga Biakabutuka would have to beat out Tyrone Wheatley, Rickey Powers, and Ed Davis, not to mention a higher rated recruit in his own class. He earned 149 carries in two years versus that group then became his own legend as a junior.
- Chris Howard signed on with two all-everything backs with a sophomore Biakabutuka already established, and ended up the nominal starting RB for a national champion.
- Clarence Williams, the Cass Tech mite, didn't seem afraid of larger classmate J.R. Ford or the aforementioned guys; he beat out Howard and Floyd as a freshman, became the feature back as a sophomore, and spent his whole career battling Howard, Floyd, and A-Train for carries.
- Anthony Thomas was the second-least heralded of four heralded backs who might have believed they were coming in to wait two years for Howard and C-Will to clear out. The train arrived at the starting station his freshman year and eventually broke most of Michigan's rushing records.
- Justin Fargas signed up beside Walter Cross, while freshman A-Train was tearing it up, and before A-Train's classmates skedaddled.
- B.J. Askew came in with three other freshman backs, including 5-star Ryan Beard, when Thomas had two more years, and two more 5-stars, including the electrifying Fargas, had three.
- Chris Perry had about the clearest route to the starter's gig of anybody, but that still meant behind two 5-stars with sophomore eligibility (Beard, Fargas), and one junior (Cross).
- Mike Hart might have looked like depth no matter which class he signed onto. To win the starting job as a true freshman he beat out senior David Underwood, junior Pierre Rembert, sophomore Jerome Jackson, and higher rated freshman Max Martin.
- Kevin Grady saw the freshman duo leap to the top of the depth chart in 2004 yet opted to join the Wolverines in 2005.
- Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown arrived when Grady was to be a sophomore and Hart had two more years as starter locked down.
- Shaw's snake-oiling away from Penn State was to join McGuffie and Cox as the generation that should wait two years for Minor/Brown to clear out. McGuffie hurdled everyone to start much of '08.
- Fitz Toussaint and Vincent Smith signed on before McGuffie left, and piled into a two-seater filled with eight other RB-or-Slot bug types.
- Hopkins signed up to maybe be the thunder guy in case they wanted to keep that job after Minor left, but still had to contend with the boatload of slot bugs.
The list of guys who didn't commit to imposing depth charts full of established and/or hyped underclassmen reads thusly: Kelly Baraka, David Underwood, Pierre Rembert, Darnell Hood, Alijah Bradley, Jerome Jackson. The moral: if you want to be the starting tailback for Michigan you always have to compete against other highly rated backs. This isn't coach speak; it's the standard. A running back who commits here is almost 50% likely to end up at another position or another school. Standard operating procedure is to arrive behind an established junior star and last year's freshman phenom, and if you manage to earn carries against those guys there's still two more classes of blue chip backs arriving after you to steal them.
Enough Carries to Go Around
So two things are true: Michigan has for a long time recruited many more guys than they need at the running back position, and the position has experienced a lot of attrition and position switches. The latter was probably by design; Lloyd Carr recruited at least Weathers, Woody Hankins (who was an RB as a freshman and as a junior), Ian Gold, Jon Shaw, Charles Drake and Darnell Hood with the idea of a defensive swap in mind. Anyway it never stopped the parade of hyped backs to Ann Arbor, despite the fact that until 2008 the coaches always preferred a feature back kind of system. A quick look at the numbers shows there were a lot of carries slipping through the starters' grasps:
|Year||Starting Tailback||Class||Carries||ALL RB Carries||% RB Carries|
|Total||ALL STARTERS (not itals)||--||3,832||6,881||55.7%|
Note: In years with two players listed, the one in italics is the nominal backup who got carries due to the nominal starter's injury. Their stories are intricate and known. Anyhoo, speaking to this year's freshmen, if anything it's not the other backs they should be worried about; it's Denard taking carries away from the entire RB corps.
The closest comparison to the situation for a hypothetical three-man 2013 class is probably 2004 (the year Hart won the job), since there's a lot of guys on the roster now whose profiles would suggest "just a guy" more than "future star." Any year between 1997 and 2000 makes a good case study for a seemingly insurmountable climb for any one recruit, but even in the heart of the A-Train years there were plenty of carries that went to guys like Justin Fargas and B.J. Askew. There were also plenty of Ryan Beard/Walter Cross/Ray Jackson/Pat McCall types who came with hype and couldn't crack the depth chart.
This is what Wyatt Shallman and Deveon Smith are signing up for. Given Michigan's history of stockpiling talent at this position, adding a five-star to this class is no deviation from the norm; in fact it would probably bring us closer to a "typical" depth chart. Fitz will be a senior when these guys arrive, and none of Drake Johnson/Dennis Norfleet/Justice Hayes/Thomas Rawls at this point should seem more insurmountable than, say, a Jerome Jackson. On the other hand an Isaac commit would mean carrying eight scholarship backs in 2013, something we haven't done since 1997. It's way too early to predict this kind of stuff but I'm sure jamiemac wouldn't call you crazy for a Justice Hayes to receiver prop. And while we can't ever plan for transfers, busts, or injuries, and I certainly hope all of these guys play out their eligibility, I don't think anybody is willing to bet on that. If Michigan wants to take another blue chip, history says there is room and opportunities available. However it's not the year Michigan can afford a scholarship for a depthy flier dude to keep up alumni relations or something like that.
Rating: 3 of 5.
|Mike Shaw||Sr.||John McColgan||Sr.*|
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||So.*||Steve Watson||Sr.*|
|Vincent Smith||Jr.||Joe Kerridge||Fr.|
For some reason I feel real good about this group of guys.
The Tenuous Starter
|carlos brown fast…|
|just runs by the SLB|
|make a decisive cut|
|burst into the open field|
|cuts hard backside|
|…but doesn't fall over if you breathe on him|
|runs through three tackles|
|spins for YAC|
|keeps balance on goal line|
|always falls funny|
|just UMass but still|
|vision can be laughable|
|complete stop in hole|
After two years of injury, redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint seemed on his way to Bolivia. Maybe that judgment was a bit hasty, but he was healthy for chunks of last year and couldn't push his way past a thoroughly mediocre group in front of him (he had eight carries), so the internet jumped to conclusions. That's what the internet does.
The internet has recently jumped to another conclusion based on rapturous scrimmage reports and Toussaint getting the Golden Carry in front of the media before they were abruptly ushered out of practice. Everyone else can go to Bolivia: we're going with Fitz.
The thing is this also happened last year. Toussaint redshirted due to a shoulder injury, then started building up the hype train. By the time last fall's preview rolled around, Fred Jackson had called him Mike Hart (except fast) and Chris Perry (except fast) and local insiders were saying he was a "clear #1" in the tailback derby.
Toussaint followed this surge in momentum up by damaging himself. An ankle injury took him down late in last year's fall camp. He was was listed as "out" on the injury report for UConn and Notre Dame and didn't play against UMass. When he got on the field against Bowling Green he ripped off a long run and a touchdown… and then immediately hurt his knee. He was then out for Iowa, MSU, Illinois, and Penn State. To date he's been china in a bull shop.
While the Jackson hype spotlight has moved on to the new freshman hotness, Hoke and Borges have focused on Toussaint. So have the papers, though when they focus on him they are lying like a boss:
"I wasn't as comfortable (last year) as I am in this offense," said Stephen Hopkins (6-0, 228).
Fitzgerald Toussaint, like Hopkins, is a bigger back — stronger and more physical, and this type of offense fits his style.
"I like this offense a little bit better," said Toussaint (5-10, 195). "It's smash-mouth football."
Guh? Toussaint is not large. He is a bigger back in the way Mike Hart is a bigger back: not at all (except fast!). All round knowledge must be reshaped to fit into the new square knowledge holes.
If Toussaint grabs the job he'll be closer to Hart than Shaw or Hopkins. I'm not sure if he is Except Fast—that long run above features BGSU players running him down from behind, but he was the 60M state champ in high school. Hopefully his injury issues were the cause.
Because of those issues, we have little more than the BGSU runs and his high school tape to go on. That tape again:
I like it. It makes me tingly. Tousssaint seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. If he beats out a healthy Shaw he'll be well on his way to translating that tape to college, and I could get used to a jump-cutting Houdini with sprinter's speed. Toussaint is the offense's Roh: the wildcard. Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
Third Down Back
|gets what you give him…|
|here's a free touchdown|
|Y U NO FAST|
|…and sometimes more|
|whiffed Purdue tackle|
|dancing past Huskies|
|slips through small holes|
|flare screen specialist|
|LB + Smith = easy slant|
|srsly about slant|
|still flare specialist|
|cuts charging slot LB|
|pops S pretty good|
When Al Borges said Michigan had settled on a third down back but he wouldn't tell the public who it was, the existence of the role was far more interesting than who it might be. It was bloody obvious who it was: Vincent Smith. He is 5'6" and the coaches have spent the fall gushing about his toughness. He played as a freshman because he was a better pass blocker than anyone else after Minor got too banged up to stay in if he wasn't running. If you need some one to leak out into the flat or annihilate a blitzer, he's your guy.
That's what they mean, right? They don't mean to run him on third and freaking one over and over again, do they? I'm not thinking about this possibility. Eat it, paranoid fears of irrational coaching decisions past.
Those taken care of, Smith has actually suffered a demotion by taking the new role. He was the only Michigan player to exceed 50% of Denard's carries last year. He didn't tear up the field with them, averaging a meh 4.5 YPC. The clips at right are not exactly "wow" moments. Smith seems to have a good sense for how his blocking will set up; he does not break many tackles or drag carriers for YAC, nor does he juke guys out of their jocks. He's just a guy.
The hope with Smith is that the ACL injury he sustained in the '09 Ohio State game was not entirely healed last year, or at least Smith had not recovered the jitterbug agility that caused me to attribute "top-end shiftiness" to him, channel my inner Fred Jackson by comparing Smith to Hart after he did this…
…and declare "I will not be dissuaded" that he would start next year (check) and be good (eh… not so much). This year will determine whether that was excessive enthusiams based on small sample size or the real, ACL-having Smith.
Smith's lack of rushing yards was one thing, but the weird thing was his lack of involvement in the passing game. After making ten catches in less than a game and a half at the end of his freshman year, he made only 15 during the entirety of 2010. That's quite a bit what less than the "30, 40, even 50" I predicted before the season. This year he'll probably get towards the 30 range; his rushing attempts will dip but not that much unless you believe the two guys in front of him are going to be super mega healthy, which would be a silly thing to believe. Like his Pahokee teammate Odoms, Smith is a useful piece opponents won't lose sleep over.
|massive short yardage overreaction|
|not Vincent Smith|
|can move laterally|
|good agility for beef machine|
|lead block for Denard|
|kicking out for Denard|
|great vision here|
|clubs PSU LB|
Now we descend into the woolly depths. Sophomore Stephen Hopkins is a surprise find down here. A big mooseback with no competition on the roster when it comes to being 230 pounds and capable of carrying a football, Hopkins was hailed as the obvious solution to the tailback issue once Hoke installed MANBALL. Hell, I was arguing that even sans manball Hopkins and his blocking heft were the best fit in a Denard-heavy running offense.
So of course Hopkins has been a virtual non-entity this fall. He did show up in a Media Day interview seeming chipper and vowing he hadn't played a snap at fullback; other than that he's been invisible save a couple of "oh and that guy" references from the coaches.
The insider chatter keeps mentioning the doghouse, and eagle-eyed observers of the season preview of Inside Michigan Football caught him doing something called "log rolling," which I thought was when you tried not to fall off a log into a lake. It turns out to also refer to a punitive activity people inflict on football players. Hopkins is doing it. So… yeah, he's in the doghouse. Since that doesn't seem to be a weight problem it's an off-field issue.
Whatever it is it will have to be serious if it's going to knock Hopkins off the field long term. He's the only guy on the roster with a plausible claim to being a short-yardage mauler, and we're all sick of watching Vincent Smith on third and one. He fills a role and fills it well; unless the Rawls hype is something other than the usual Fred Jackson stuff Hopkins will be the guy they call on when they want to MAN some BALLS in a VAN down by the FIRST DOWN MARKER.
I think he'll have a role elsewhere as well. That thump-thump section at right makes a good case that if you're trying to maximize Denard's effectiveness Hopkins is your guy. While Smith is the best pass blocker available, when he impacts a linebacker he's just trying to stall him. He does not do this:
Hopkins creates windows other backs don't. When three yards and a cloud of dust is a win, he'll be in there.
After Hopkins it's freshmen and obscurity. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Jackson family the least obscure kid down here is Thomas Rawls. He's Mark Ingram except faster… or Kevin Grady not asked to run stretch plays. Even before he was laid up with a shoulder issue in fall camp he'd fallen behind the veterans. Catching up now is going to be difficult. If he's as difficult to tackle as the Jacksons say he could wrest the short yardage job from Hopkins while he's in the doghouse; more realistically he'll get a few carries here and there in preparation for more serious efforts in 2012 and beyond. Fellow freshman Justice Hayes [recruiting profile] looks like he'll redshirt. A move to receiver is a possibility.
Finally, redshirt junior Mike Cox finds himself buried on the depth chart even after the coaching change he celebrated with some unwise tweets. He can be the most physically talented running back on the roster all he wants. He's just about out of chances, and he's nowhere near the field. We'll always have long runs in garbage time, Mike.
We've seen very little from Michigan fullbacks since the advent of the Rodriguez era. When it came time to bulk up Rodriguez would just run Robinson at the line, bring in Webb and Koger at the same time, or use one of the tailbacks as a lead blocker.
Appearances by John McColgan were infrequent, too infrequent to draw conclusions. He did catch one of those two-yard touchdown passes fullbacks are always reeling in and whack Clayborn with help from Huyge on a third and short against Iowa.
He's a senior and should be all right. Moving Steve Watson to an H-back type spot suggests he won't be anything more than a specialist. I'm betting fullbacks are only more prevalent when Michigan is "imposing its will" on an opponent, and by "imposing its will" I mean "boring the hell out of everyone in the third quarter against a MAC opponent." Here is the mandatory fluff article about his increased role in MANBALL anyway.
Photo from Media Day 2010 by Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com.
LtoR: Phil Monolo, Stephen Hopkins, Michael Shaw, Fred Jackson, Fitgerald Toussaint, John McColgan, Vincent Smith. Not pictured: Cox.
Scheduling note: I'm gonna start separating the Dear Diary and rambling musings/studies/logorrhea stuff into two separate weekly posts. DD is moving to Friday to service your weekend reading demands, with the other stuff (name suggestions?) on Tuesdays. Also I'm going to try to make these ramblings less wordy, starting…uh, next time.
By now you know the meme: Fred Jackson likes to hyperbolize his running backs. This being the most active position battle, I figured a review of Jackson's current stud stable of studly running studs, half-studs and tail-studs might be in order.
Close your eyes, think of your favorite Michigan back of all time, and then imagine he's FASTER:
Mike Hart/Jamie Morris, Except Faster and More Agile!
Alias: #2 Vincent Smith (Jr/Jr)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
This is not the greatest song in the world; this is just a tribute.
Omameh and Molk do the hard stuff but watch Smith do a Hart-y shoulder thing then almost get caught by a Hoosier DB.
Style: Pahokeean scat-back who can catch. Vincent is small, like Hart, and plays with ♥, like Hart, but when Smith tries to burrow the pile forward like Hart he looks like a 6-year-old trying with all his might to batter 10-year-olds, ie he ends up earning more respect than yards. And there's this:
* Yeah right.
Darren Sproles would be more accurate. I just can't think of another jackrabbit, and honestly I think he's more Hart than Jamie, except Hart is more like Jamie than Smith. Before his injury Smith was a vintage spread scatty RB who could also be a devastating receiver in the flat. He can jump out of a run into a big lateral juke and accelerate faster than any other back from a dead stop.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: It's 3rd and 8, and that nickel back needs some strong incentive to keep him from blitzing or dropping back to help cover the slant.
Is he THE ONE? Smith's nominally the returning starter and also the leader in rushes, career yards, and receptions/rec yards among the RBs. But probably not, since he's leeeetle, and physics. If the Spring Game is any evidence I-form man-ball means sending the RB into the 2nd level with Force, which is acceleration times something Smith lacks. Jackson says he's chosen a 3rd down back and inference leads to obviously Smith, therefore Smith's not the every-down back.
Mike Hart, Except Faster, and Bigger, and like Chris Perry…
Or Lawrence Ricks. Except Faster.
Alias: #28 Fitzgerald Toussaint (So/Jr)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
Just a freshman…
Having trouble with time stamps. There's a good one of Ricks at 38 seconds, but the whole day's basically Ricks rushes broken up by great defense and AC highlights so deal.
FWIW that BG defensive back is actually pretty fast.
"Michael Hart ability with speed. The kind of guy that can do Michael's cuts, he can sit down, sink his hips and explode by making steps. He's faster than Mike and a very, very tough guy, like Mike was. He's very similar to Mike. He's not the type of inside runner Mike was -- but he's going to get there."
"He's got great feet, acceleration, strength, power," Jackson said. "I can compare him to somebody -- he's like a fast Chris Perry. He's going to be very good."
Style: I keep hearing people say Hart and I see it in that Fitz has those same thick, powerful legs that put his center of gravity lower than Pat Massey can bend. But Hart was sly with subtle plants that threw off tackle attempts. Fitz's highlight reel is full of knee-poppers and sideways slides he used to make lower-division Ohio high schoolers look like fools the way Barry Sanders made NFL players look like fools. Makes great moves and great cuts. Vision is unknown – he ran and reacted in high school. Then he goes to plaid.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: The practice hype (it started swelling last year at this time as well) turns into Fitz Toussaint atop the roster.
Is he THE ONE? The shift to I-formations and man blocking seems to favor him over Brown or Smith, but he's still a guy made for picking through zone, not taking on linebackers with his face.
Carlos Brown, Except Faster
Alias: #20 Michael Shaw (Sr/Sr)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
Style: Glider who runs upright and a little leaned back, waiting to unleash a ridiculous gashing move from which he accelerates like an overused metaphor at the Woodward Dream Cruise. The move can be used to clear traffic or cutback, but with Shaw, like Brown, you only get to press the juke button once, and then you're mashing speed boost. Track star speed plus that move make him murder on bad teams.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: The playside hole is blocked perfectly and the backside DE for whatever reason (out of position, MACrificial) might not get there in time to fill before it's open green to the end zone.
Is he THE ONE? Probably not, but when you say "change of pace" back, Shaw is exactly what you're talking about. The kill-shot or bust nature of the slasher means they usually come paired with a softening agent: Carlos Brown & Brandon Minor, Tony Boles & Leroy Hoard (& Morris), Butch Woolfolk & Stan Edwards, Woody Allen & Bette Midler. Shaw will push a pile a bit and isn't as shoelace trippy as Brown was, but other guys can do much more with less. My sense is he's best deployed when the defense is way overmatched against Michigan's blocking, either because they're exhausted from chasing Smith/Toussaint and being battered by Hopkins, or because they aren't so good to begin with.
Jerome Bettis/Leroy Hoard, Except Faster
Alias: #33 Stephen Hopkins (So/So)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
FF to 1:28 for Hoard. Optional: stand out in the middle of U.S. 23.
Where's Keith Jackson with his rising"He's a HOSS!" when you need him?
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when:
Also when the offensive line has done its job, but so has the defense, and that means there's a linebacker headed for the same, only hole the running back can go through, and physics takes over.
Is he THE ONE? Well he might not be available early, and in a crowd that could hurt. Hopkins earned more carries as his freshman season went on. The offense seems to 'liek mudkipz' (I have no idea if I got this reference right). Count me among those holding back on visions of Wheatley (who was a bona fide track star as well as bruiser) or A-Train, who ran high and fell forward for those extra yards. Hoard but faster could be accurate, and not at all a bad thing.
Tshimanga Biakabutuka & Chris Perry, Except Faster & Stronger
Alias: #15 Michael Cox (Jr/Sr)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
You knew this was coming.
Just flip to a random spot, it's probably Perry running for 8 yards.
Somebody's been messing with the sliders on Junior Varsity mode.
Style: Like Shaw/Brown he waits for the opponent to make a mistake he can exploit before hitting the gas pedal (Perry would just go). But Cox is built much thicker than the pure speed guys, and while he can burn in his way, he can also use his thick build for power. His main asset is great balance, which makes him hard to take down without crazy moves, and that's where the Biakabutuka reference comes in. Plus I wanted to link that video of him tearing apart Ohio State again because I was 15 when that happened and not yet sure if it's okay to develop strong feelings for people who dismantle Ohio State. I am pretty sure it's not okay to do so for people who dismantle Delaware State.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: You're drafting your 3-on-3 basketball team.
Is he THE ONE? Practice word since freshman year is he's the most naturally gifted, but practice hype from teammates et al. is refuted by observer reports mentioning Cox running the wrong direction, and missing his lanes. Latest is he's learning the playbook and might challenge later on. OTOH the guy does have ridiculous balance, and has broken a long one in every game he's appeared. On the other-other hand, most of his career yards were gained with Cone in at QB making DO throws to LaTerryal Savoy and Anthony Reyes. Unless he makes his move this year, this former camp offer from nowhere likely ends up a running back Notorious C.O.N.E.
Mark Ingram, Except Faster
Alias: #38 Thomas Rawls (Fr/Fr)
Video evidence of reincarnation:
Look how slow highlight reels were before high school coaches learned about 1.2x playback.
Hurray for "Higlights!"
Style: He's 5'10 and almost 230 lbs. as a freshman. That means lots of mass relatively low to the ground. He makes that lower, giving Rawls the same P.J. Hill-ishness that makes guys bounce off him.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: This guy was born to run between the tackles.
Is he THE ONE? Thickly built backs like him tend to be early-playable since their game is pretty straightforward. Watch Ingram's highlight reel – or Clarett's – as underclassmen. Such men are immune to arm tackling. To anyone not from Flint or with the last name Jackson, Rawls is almost certainly a lite version of those guys. How lite will determine how useful he is this year, and down the line.
Bobby 'Bomber' Nussbaumer, Except Faster
Alias: #5 Justice Hayes (Fr/Fr)
Evidence of reincarnation:
Actually in Nussbaumer's day bloggers got our video feeds from buying packs of chewing gum with cardboard prints of badly-colored newspaper clippings. Then we swished the cards around so it looked like their subjects were moving…
Reverse from 1948 card:
Halfback – Washington Redskins
Weight—170 lbs. Age—24
…Set all-time Redskin pass-catching record, finishing 2nd in league play to Bud Keane of Bears with 47 passes good for 597 yards. Named All-Big Ten halfback in 1945 while starring for Michigan. Is all-around athlete. Plays baseball, basketball and participates in track.
Style: Kind of like a less hyped McGuffie, no? And like McGuff, he hurdled some fool, and lost most of his senior year to injury.
Of all M's tailbacks you want him in there when: It's January 2014, Heisman-winning QB Devin Gardner takes the snap and suddenly Tennesse's defense is through the line and coming toward him – but WAIT, it's a screen to Michigan's playmaker Justice Mercury Willie Mays Hayes. He's loose in the open field with just one man – 7'2 safety JAWS – to beat…Hayes leaps OVER him. Touchdown Michigan! Michigan has put this game out of reach and barring a miracle Gardner and Hayes and the Wolverines are going to be your 2013 season National Champions! Hi dad!
Is he THE ONE? As in can he lead us to victory over the machines and free us from the Matrix? Yes. As in will he claim the job in 2011? No. But next year Shaw's gone and then Smith's gone, and Hayes should be a more filled out sophomore.
The smart money says all of these guys except Hayes will probably touch the ball this year. So if you really want to know what Michigan's backs will look like this year, put this on fast forward..
…or watch lots of games from 1980: