Reading the Tea Leaves: Running Back Situation

Submitted by Beavis on August 5th, 2011 at 11:42 AM

Bored at work - slow day on the board.  

Anyway, figured this was worth discussing:

  • Word is that Thomas Rawls is not exactly eligible to play this fall - YET.  He has been taking a summer class (just one I believe) at Michigan that he has to pass in order to be eligible for this fall.  Logic would state that it should be pretty easy to pass the class, and if he can't pass one class over the summer - how would he be able to take a 12-hour course load in the fall / winter at Michigan?  I am not concerned, but it is something worth mentioning.
  • Assuming Rawls is eligible, look for it to be a battle with Stephen Hopkins to be the primary tailback.  Nothing really of substance to add here - just what people are saying.  The Rawls hype train continues to churn down the tracks.
  • There should be a position for "Third Down RB" this fall, most likely to be filled by Vincent Smith or Justice Hayes.  Hayes has generated a lot of good buzz from the people watching, even if he could potentially use a redshirt year to increase his muscle mass.  He'd have to be really impressive, IMO, because Vincent Smith is made for this role in our new offense.  If V. Smith cannot get a strangehold on this role, I wouldn't be surprised if he transferred at some point.
  • I wouldn't count out Fitz, Shaw, or Cox, either.  Fitz is the most complete back - could handle the entire load himself if he magically became injury-proof.  Word is Shaw has put in the work this offseason, unlike prior seasons.  But his injury has put him behind others at the moment - and it remains to be seen if he's more 1st/2nd down back or a 3rd down back (the term "tweener" comes to mind here - and that's never a good thing).  Cox needs to learn a playbook before he will see the field.  Once practice starts, if he's learned the playbook - he could be a frontrunner.



August 5th, 2011 at 1:58 PM ^

If a player 1) hasn't burned his redshirt year and 2) lives far from Michigan and 3) finds himself buried on the depth chart after a couple year is would probably behove him to transfer.  In some cases it's mutually benificial. 

And before anyway says that all players should stick around to get their Michigan degree, remember that most players (despite what they may say) go to school to play on Saturdays and dream of preparing to one day play on Sundays. A prestigious degree is nice but these players live and breath football.

So while saying that players that aren't contributing should transfer is a dick move simply stating that "I could see why x player might transfer if he is buried on the depth chart" is not.


August 5th, 2011 at 11:50 AM ^

Can someone explain how Smith is "made" for the 3rd down back in this offense?

I might (and probably do) misunderstand the logic here, but isn't a 3rd down back supposed to be a super-bruiser type (John Clay-esque) who knocks all opponents out of his way?

I was thinking that Smith would be a perfect back for a roll out or for moved to a slot type guy. 





August 5th, 2011 at 11:55 AM ^


Third down = passing down.

Third down back = quick, with good hands that can get 7-10 yards on a reception.

I remember what VS could do before his ACL injury - he's a perfect 3rd down back.  

Mr Mackey

August 5th, 2011 at 11:57 AM ^

He was thinking of Third and short, where you just need to bust through the line for a yard or so. Which Smith is obviously not made for.

I agree with you about him, though, and I think he will see more time than people are thinking in the new offense.



August 5th, 2011 at 1:20 PM ^

the typical way to describe a back used on third and one is a "short yardage back" as opposed to a "third down back" who typically is on the field for his versatility, ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make people miss in the open field.

Yostbound and Down

August 5th, 2011 at 11:56 AM ^

A third-down back is now thought of as more of a Brian Westbrook, Kevin Faulk, etc. type...someone who can catch passes and run draw plays on third-and medium to long. Basically a guy who isn't expected to handle the ball every down and usually comes in when it's not a running play.


August 5th, 2011 at 2:00 PM ^

Kevin Faulk is exactly who I think of when I hear "third down back." I wasn't a big fan of Faulk early in his career because I wanted an running back that can do it all, but Faulk has been one of the most pivotal parts of the Pats' offense in that he does the little things. If Vincent Smith can do the same type of things for Michigan, we're going to be very pleased with his output. It would probably help his draft status too if he improved his blocking and catching out of the backfield. 


August 5th, 2011 at 11:56 AM ^

A true 3rd down back is one that is very versitile.  Think third an over 4 to go.  They need to be able to be a receiver out of the backfield, pass block effectivly as well run the ball.  Smith is perfect for th erole.


August 5th, 2011 at 11:57 AM ^

I seem to recall at least half of this board going crazy because RR had V Smith in on 3rd and 2, while Hopkins sat on the sidelines watching. The guys over at TheWolverine said the same thing about using Smith as a 3rd down back, and I was thinking they were crazy. Maybe using him on 3rd and long makes sense, but if I see him get taken down in the backfield on 3rd and short again, I'm gonna go crazy.


August 5th, 2011 at 12:22 PM ^

 What a super bruiser like john clay?..... How quickly we forget Leroy Hoard!

Lol I remember the exact quote " If you need 1 yard  he'll get you 3 , but if you need 10 yards... he'll get you 3"

True Blue Grit

August 5th, 2011 at 2:26 PM ^

Great memory for me too.  I was at that Rose Bowl with my Dad.  Fantastic day - watching the Rose Parade, tailgating on the golf course outside the stadium, and watching U-M beat USC.  Hoard was a textbook physical back who had some speed too.  Gotta love the wishbone formation too when we scored on the 4th down play!


August 5th, 2011 at 11:54 AM ^

With four or five different guys that could be playing running back, barring a string of injuries (an unfortunately typical thing for us at RB as of late), I would like to see either Rawls or Hayes or both redshirt.  Hayes needs to bulk up and neither have had as much time as the others to learn the playbook or practice handoffs with Denard.

Mr Mackey

August 5th, 2011 at 12:20 PM ^

Don't all first year players take a summer class? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure they do and that it counts as their first course, so if they do poorly at that, they might be ineligible. Is Rawls' situation different?

Kilgore Trout

August 5th, 2011 at 12:27 PM ^

I still feel like Shaw will end up being the guy this year.  TTB made some good points about him being a good back for straight ahead, no read running.  He also has top end speed and is generally good receiving out of the backfield.  Obviously the injury bug has killed him, but he has experience and theoretically has the tools to be the guy. 

Hopkins didn't strike me as an everydown type guy, but I've certainly been wrong before.

Blue in Yarmouth

August 5th, 2011 at 1:40 PM ^

If people weren't impressed with Shaw last year they weren't paying attention. I saw some of the best runs I have seen from a UM back in a long time last season when Shaw was running the ball. I particulalrly remember a carry where he carried the ball the final 8 yards into the endzone with two defenders on his back. He can play and I hope the coaches and injury situation will allow him to do that this season. 


August 5th, 2011 at 3:41 PM ^

I remember being pretty impressed with his play. I had heard all about McGuffie, but nothing about Shaw, and thought in that game Shaw ran better.  Although McGuffie did do well against ND. 

I think Shaw has some great potential.  Hopefully healthy Shaw pushes healthy Smith to operate as a speed back and Hopkins as a more power back.