Running Back Depth Chart

Submitted by cbishop on January 30th, 2011 at 7:07 PM

With Running Backs being a big question mark and with the addition of a new offense...Who do you guys think steps up and takes the starting spot? And who fills in behind him? With our depth i really dont know who to expect.



January 30th, 2011 at 7:10 PM ^

I'm pretty sure the last 3 years have taught us that nothing is a given at the RB position. We keep predicting someone to step up and it never seems to happen the way it should.

This is true again this year because we have such a wide variety of different types of backs and we still don't know exactly the new offence will be like. I figure Shaw/Smith are still out front but it could end up being something entirely different. Best to wait at least until spring practice to see what happens there.


January 30th, 2011 at 7:16 PM ^

I think with his size and flashes of good play, S. Hopkins is our starting RB. Were going to have so many others contributing though. Mike Cox and Fitz should play well in this O, with Mike Shaw and Vinnie Smith getting decreased playing time just because they don't fit great in the O. Shaw should play more than Vinnie and Hayes will see field just because he's a playmaker. If Rawls tears it up when he gets on campus he could see time, but with so much depth I see him redshirting. (I'm considering him signing with M)


January 30th, 2011 at 8:29 PM ^

All of them will start or none of them will.

All of them will play, but only maybe. 

To be honest, until we hit spring ball and get some semblance of an offensive package/scheme, there is no real reason to calling who will start etc. 

If we run a power I, its probably Shaw/Hopkins

If we run a veer option, its probably toussaint and VSmith

If we run a Pro-Set, its probably Shaw/Hopkins and V.Smith/Toussaint

If we run a Shotgun 5 wide, its Denard. 


The only thing I am literally praying for this year is a triple option with Denard, Hopkins and Shaw. 


January 30th, 2011 at 7:23 PM ^

I've liked what Shaw brought to the table when healthy.  He wasn't afraid to take the ball between the tackles and had a nice first step when running wide.   Second choice for me would be Hopkins and my dark horse is Cox who seemed to be in RR's doghouse for some reason.



January 30th, 2011 at 7:42 PM ^

If you held a gun to my head and asked for my best guess I'd say the following predictions:


Will See Significant Playing Time (and in some cases signficantly more than previously too):

Stephen Hopkins

Fitz Toussaint

Michael Shaw

Will See Significantly Less Playing Time

Vincent Smith

Unpredictable X-Factor

Mike Cox

Will Probably Redshirt

Thomas Rawls

WIll Redshirt Unless...

Justice Hayes (if he establishes himself as the best receiver out of the backfield I can see him being a third down-type back as a freshman).


January 30th, 2011 at 8:24 PM ^

Well I remember hearing something about Hopkins being criticized for fumbling, but I don't know if someone comes and puts their head right on the ball if Cox will be able to keep from loosing it onto the field.  I hope Cox is able to take it all, hit after hit, and just keep pushing and going for it. 

Maybe some day he'll be another Mike Hart where you can count on Cox to put his head down and stick it right up the middle and make magic happen.

Indiana Blue

January 30th, 2011 at 7:57 PM ^

predicted Mike Cox would be a "likely" starter based on what they saw during fall camp.  Interestingly, he never saw the field last season (at Alabama this would qualify as an immediate red-shirt season / s).  Anyway, I would look for Cox to at least a factor in the coming year's running back rotation ... and I would imagine it will be a rotation as I don't think we have found a "go to" back .... yet.

Go Blue !


January 30th, 2011 at 7:58 PM ^

I think Shaw has a similar running style to the kid Hoke had at SDSU last year (smallish, but willing to run hard and has a quick burst). Also being a senior, I think you can pencil him in as a starter.

Fitz will spell him and replace him if Shaw gets hurt.

Hopkins and Cox will play similar roles but for our power running game. I think the split is something like: Shaw (60%), Hopkins (20%), and Fitz/Cox 10% each.


January 30th, 2011 at 8:02 PM ^

 Who ever catches on to the new system the best that can block and hold on to the football should get the most PT. It's been proven that freshman can contribute early at the RB position so they're all in play except for Smith. Seem like he went down just by breathing on him. Maybe he slides to the slot?


January 30th, 2011 at 8:11 PM ^

I think Vincent Smith deserves more credit than people give him. He isn't an every down back but he can catch the ball out of the backfield and he's actually a good blocker for someone his size. He's ideal for third and medium/third and long situations.

That being said, someone else will likely get the majority of snaps outside of those situations. Fitz is hardly ever healthy and whatever Cox's issues were with RR, he still hasn't shown anything on the field. I'd expect Shaw and Hopkins to be the two biggest benefactors as running backs.


January 30th, 2011 at 8:16 PM ^

Borges likes to throw to his backs a lot.  Ronnie Brown and Caddilac Williams caught 55 balls between then on that 2004 Auburn team (only one wide receiver caught more than 25).  Skip Hicks caught a lot of balls on those good UCLA offenses he had too.  I think anybody who can be effective swinging out of the backfield or catching screens is going to jump to the top of Borges's depth chart.

Flying Dutchman

January 30th, 2011 at 8:24 PM ^

Hopkins and Fitz, baby.    Though I can see Vincent being a good backfield receiver.  I was not a believer in Vincent in the spread/shred as it seemed his best effort was 2 yards, but I can see him sneaking behind the line and being deadly with the little dump off pass.


January 30th, 2011 at 8:32 PM ^

Put a good offensive line in front of any of these backs and they are going to shine. That being said, I wouldn't put too much stock into what kind of backs Hoke has previously used. When you are at SD State and Ball State, you take what you get and make it work. 

Out of our current backs on the roster Hopkins and Cox have the build similar to other pro style backs. Fitz if healthy may have the most big play potential. One thing is for sure is that it is wide open and they all should be working their asses off in the off season to get more carries.


January 30th, 2011 at 8:34 PM ^

I never got why RR always had Smith run between the tackles/off-tackle. He isn't very big and doesn't have the explosiveness to break into the secondary. He isn't going to create his own opportunities but he can be a weapon if you put him in the right situation.


January 30th, 2011 at 8:53 PM ^

This is really the most uninspiring stable of 'backs I have ever seen at Michigan. Every one of them has at least one very big drawback to their game except Hopkins, who showed a little but not a lot as a freshman.



January 30th, 2011 at 9:16 PM ^

Really? I think this is a very talented group, possibly the best on the team. Fitz, Shaw, and Cox are very talented physically, Hopkins has great size and good athleticism for his size, and Smith seems to be a student of the game who really understands his assigmments.


January 30th, 2011 at 9:57 PM ^

There is a reason RR made Denard our starting quarterback and, basically, our starting running back last season.

EyeOfTheTiger laid it out well below on all their pros and cons. I just happen to believe that all those cons are a lot more glaring than the pros. There's no real wow factor there to balance out what you don't like.


Eye of the Tiger

January 30th, 2011 at 9:29 PM ^

1. Smith 

PRO: solid, smart runner, goes forward

CON: lacks elite moves, speed or size

2. Shaw

PRO: very talented, great moves and speed

CON: can't stay healthy, too much east-west running

3. Fitz

PRO: immense talent, can break the big one

CON: health, hasn't been used enough for us to clearly evaluate him

4. Hopkins

PRO: tough, powerful back

CON: hasn't been used enough for us to clearly evaluate him

5. Justice

PRO: most talented of the bunch

CON: true freshman

Taking all that into account, I don't see a clear leader emerging.  Shaw if healthy, but that's doubtful based on the past 3 years.  Fitz and Hopkins could both be that guy, but it's impossible to tell at this point.  Given the crowded backfield, Justice could benefit from a redshirt year.  I'll guess we'll start by using them all, and see what happens, which is exactly what RR last year.  Unfortunately, it didn't work out so well in the end.     




January 30th, 2011 at 9:47 PM ^

Depends on the offensive style.  Both Smith and Shaw have established themselves as shifty, capable backs but they've also shown severe limitations in short yardage situations.  Smith off tackle on 3nd and 2 often lead to a botched field goal attempt which was like a one-two set of RAGE and "why the hell did you attempt those last two plays?" moments.  If Borges ends up desiring an offense that features shifty RBs, those two compete for playing time. 

I think if Power-I returns, Hopkins and Cox likely compete for time.  


January 30th, 2011 at 10:01 PM ^

Uhh, I REALLY doubt that.

If there's one position where fans can be hasty in their evaluations, it's running back. You can almost always tell early if someone has it or if they don't. No coach is afraid to play a freshman RB.

That Mike Cox couldn't get PT with the game in doubt as a third-year player more or less eliminates him from discussion. Not much precedent for "late bloomers" there.



January 30th, 2011 at 10:13 PM ^

Terrel Davis and Willie Parker might disagree with you. Elite backs are capable of coming in and producing as freshman with out a doubt. Our current running backs are kids who needed time to develop before being put into action. Time will tell whether there is a top back amongst them.


January 30th, 2011 at 10:26 PM ^

With Denard under center a bit more things should balance out for the running game.  That balance should equate to the RB's working themselves into the flow of the game.  If I had to nick-pic one thing about the offense from last year it's the running backs never seemed engaged into the flow of the offense. 

This is evident when we gripe about vincent going off-tackle when there's something opening up to the left or right of the hole.  If you look at Cox he's very susceptible to this issue as well (Is the hole there or no? - Well let's just pop it outside anyway!).  Insticts and vision are a big part of an RB's success.  The vision thing was missing all year.

I think we'll be quite surprised at the running game next year.  Just having Denard under center for certain plays will do wonders.

Experienced line...Experienced backs...Freddie J. in the house.  Not worried!  I just want Borgess to keep that damn Denard 'roll-fake-run-to-the-line-of-scrimmage-throw-to-the-slot' play in tact.  That shit is deadly.  Can't wait to drop that one on EA.  Again, my only concern is not carrying over the things from the shred-spread that worked.  There's a lot of great plays from that scheme.  So far they have communicated that the offense will be molded for the players.  Excellent.  We should continue to have the ability to move the ball and score at will. 



January 30th, 2011 at 10:28 PM ^

Well, if my recent games played on NCAA '11 with Michigan using SDSU's offense have any merit then Shaw is going to be a beast this year with a more traditional run offense.


January 30th, 2011 at 10:57 PM ^

I feel that Hoke's insistence on playing "Man" football definetly means that Hopkins will step up this year and become our main back.  Smith hasn't and won't be the talent we expected since his ACL surgery. I love Mike Shaw but he can't stay healthy, I think he will play a big role in the offense a la Reggie Bush with the Saints, meaning he'll make an impact in the pass game and third down.  Going along with the NCAA theme, Fitzgerald Touissant should be a beast as I won a heisman with him, but once again he is made of glass. Personally I have really high hopes for Hopkins, in very brief moments he brings back memories of a young A-Train they way he can just run downhill and through people, but he has a long way to go.

question for the board: who was our last RB besides Tyrone to do anything in the NFL?

Eye of the Tiger

January 30th, 2011 at 11:41 PM ^

Except that it's still too early to write off Fitz as a 10-25 carry/game back for health reasons.  I'm not saying he will be that, but we'll need more than one injury-riddled year to whether he can or can't be.  That said, I'm not going to put money on it.  

If I had to, I'd say your Hopkins/Shaw prediction is as good as any.  I think Smith is too small for a single-back, under center formation on 1st or 2nd down, though he's a decent pass-catcher, so if Shaw has more durability issues Smith could be the 3rd down back.  I still see us running zone-read out of the shotgun with some regularity, though too, and that changes the calculus a bit.   


January 31st, 2011 at 2:00 AM ^

Hopkins's size coming through the whole is perfect. I would like to see him start in big formations and then for a shotgun back I would like Fitz once again only if he is healthy. Hopkins is the man though.

True Blue Grit

January 31st, 2011 at 11:02 AM ^

Unless Michigan signs a FB in this class, look for Hopkins to see some snaps at FB - possibly.  I'd love to see a season where Toussaint and Shaw stay healthy, but I may be wishing for too much.  I agree with others that Smith will probably get less carries.  Cox is a complete unknown as it seems the previous coaches didn't want to play him for whatever reason. The most important thing is not so much who they have running it.  It's that the coaching staff needs to fix the running game schemes, blocking, etc.  so that Denard isn't forced into carrying it all the time.