Who is the starting RB on this team?

Submitted by Dreisbach1817 on January 20th, 2011 at 7:22 PM

In my mind is the most important spring battle, but also the least talked about.  Last year the RBs were below average.  Michigan's offense got a lot of credit but we never developed a solid run-game from the TBs to complement Denard's runs.  I think it really hurt our spread sometimes when defenses could focus in on Denard.

It seems like Shaw and Hopkins fit the best in this new system, along with maybe Fitzgerald if he can stay healthy.  I really don't see Vincent Smith getting a bulk of carries in this offense.  Nor do I see a freshman coming in to make an immediate impact.  Hayes and possibly Rawls will be very very good down the road, but I am not sure if they can play right away.  I could be wrong, of course.  SDSU had a big time frosh RB, but it's a different league here.

This should be a very interesting position battle, esepcially with the conversion from the spread to the Gulf Coast.  And remember that SDSU's offense really opened up this year with the addition of that Freshman RB.

If it's Shaw, Hopkins, and Fitzgerald, who gets the edge?  Is it more by committee or does someone seize that job?

EDIT: Consensus is ..... it is WIDE open.



January 20th, 2011 at 7:23 PM ^

No love for Cox? I think he can play very well in this kind of downhill running system. He certainly feels that he will do well (and that RR didnt use him well)


January 20th, 2011 at 7:27 PM ^

Cox has fumbling problems and missed a lot of assignments.  In addition, he tends to go east and west instead of going north and south.  No coach would play Cox if he consistently miss assignments and doesn't go north and south as quickly as possible.

If Cox continue to have that kind issues, you bet your butt that Hoke won't play him at RB.


January 20th, 2011 at 7:32 PM ^

Cox has fumbling problems...

I believe Cox and Toussaint are the only running backs who haven't fumbled in their careers.

...and missed a lot of assignments.

I remember one missed assignment, and it was in the BGSU game last year.

In addition, he tends to go east and west instead of going north and south.

He has 19 carries for 169 yards in his career, an average of 8.89 yards per carry.  As far as I remember, not once has he shown a propensity for dancing in the backfield.


January 20th, 2011 at 7:38 PM ^

Cox wasn't exactly broken up by the firing of Rodriguez.  He knows he should have been on the field more.  And regardless of what happens in practice, some guys are just gamers - Cox seems to be one of them.

I'm not saying you're lying or that those student managers are lying, but in actual game situations, Cox has arguably been the best back on the roster for two years now.


January 20th, 2011 at 7:58 PM ^

It's tough to do with the game on the line when the coach doesn't put you in the game.

Still, go back to the 2009 Eastern Michigan game and tell me you're not impressed by Cox's runs in that game.

Bottom line: He gets it done when he's on the field.


January 20th, 2011 at 8:22 PM ^

You have to admit that it's a stretch to gauge a guy's on field performance on 19 career touches, especially when they've all come in mop up time!

Arguably the best back? I guess... then Touissant or Hopkins could also arguably the best back.  After all, Hopkins averages a TD every 9 carries, and Touissant averages 10.9 YPC in his career!

Do you really think RichRod would sit Cox for no reason when the team was in desperate need of a RB to step up?


January 20th, 2011 at 8:38 PM ^

Arguably the best back? I guess... then Touissant or Hopkins could also arguably the best back.

Okay.  That's fine.  I don't think you people understand the word "arguably."

Do you really think RichRod would sit Cox for no reason when the team was in desperate need of a RB to step up?

No.  I'm sure there's a reason.  Just like I'm sure there was a reason that Demens didn't surpass Ezeh earlier, that Cam Gordon started at FS, that he tried to kick a FG in the Gator Bowl, etc.  There's always a reason.  That doesn't mean the reason was a good one.



January 20th, 2011 at 7:46 PM ^

You can't reward a player by playing him in the games if he isn't getting it done in practice.  What is the team going to think if he gets to play while Shaw, Fitz, Smith, Hopkins sit out even though they outperform him in practice?  This is just another case of people thinking the backup is better than the starter based on very limited information.  I will trust that the coaches, knowing winning is very important, would not have benched Cox if they actually thought he was better than the other RBs.


Also those stats Cox has put up were against Eastern Michigan, Delaware State and Bowling Green so take that with a grain of salt.  If you are honestly going to say he is the most productive back on the team based on limited action against those 3 teams then you are crazy.


You and I and nobody else has seen him play against a legitimate team, nor have we seen him in practice so it is completely asinine to insist he is the best RB on the team.

Pea-Tear Gryphon

January 20th, 2011 at 7:51 PM ^

The same shit was said about Demens not starting. Then he started and we were all left thinking why the hell he wasn't starting from the beginning. Don't sleep on Cox (TWSS) this year. I normally err on the side of the coaches, but this last staff's ability to recognize and develop talent left a few things to be desired.

Jus' sayin'


January 20th, 2011 at 8:19 PM ^

I disagree.

You can reward a kid if he's making an effort in practice.  If he's making honest mistakes with high effort, you can put him in the game in certain situations.  If he's just flat-out being lazy, then you're right.

Here's what I would think if someone put a good back in the game who misses occasional assignments:

I'm glad the coaches are putting in a running back who gives us a chance to win.


January 21st, 2011 at 8:31 AM ^

And you know that he was making an effort in practice how?  Based on the comments he made when the coaches were fired I would venture to guess he didn't make a great effort in practice.  The comments he made were classless and shows that he probably didn't give his full effort for them.  Cox definitely has some raw talent, but you need to be able to pass block and catch passes out of the backfield in addition to just running the ball if you want to be an all-around back.  


You honestly can tell me that Cox was making mistakes with high effort?  And even that concept is ridiculous... if he makes mistakes but gives a lot of effort he is no different than Rudy.. Coaches need to have confidence that you are not going to make mistakes in the games if they put you in.  You can't just say well you work hard, but there's a decent chance that you will miss an assignment or fumble the ball.. we'll put you in anyways.  If there are players who don't miss assignments and give high effort WITHOUT the mistakes then they are the ones who need to see the field.


January 21st, 2011 at 9:11 AM ^

I don't think you can tell from comments he made on January 6th, 2011 (or thereabouts) how much of an effort he made on August 1, 2008 or September 14th, 2009 or November 2nd, 2010.

And like I said, Michael Cox hasn't fumbled once in a game situation.  Some guys are gamers.  Some aren't.  Cox might fumble the ball the next 5 times he touches it in a game, but so far, Vincent Smith has a much higher turnover rate.


January 20th, 2011 at 7:54 PM ^

"Arguably" is the operative word here.

We're arguing it.  And 8.89 yards a carry speaks for itself, whether it's against BGSU or Ohio State.  He's not going to average almost 9 YPC for his entire career, but he's fast and breaks tackles.  Hopkins isn't very fast, Smith can't break tackles. 

That's why I said below that Shaw, Toussaint, and Cox might be a three-headed race for the starting job in September.


January 20th, 2011 at 8:13 PM ^

I'm sorry, did Vincent Smith's 4.6 yards a carry and (I think) five fumbles convince you he was the best back on the team?

Did Hopkins' 37 carries convince you he's the best back on the team?

Did Toussaint's 4 carries convince you he's the best back on the team?

They're all unproven . . . or proven to be mediocre.

So like I said, Cox is "arguably" the best back on the team.


January 20th, 2011 at 8:28 PM ^

Smith has gained over 1000 All-Purpose yards in his short UM career while finding the end zone ten times.

Shaw has gained over 900 All-Purpose yards, averaged 5.4 YPC last season, and has found the end zone twelve times. 

I think it's safe to say Cox is not even in the discussion of front-runner for returning starter, and if you actually believe he is and are not just playing devil's advocate then i'm wasting my words explaining this to you.


January 20th, 2011 at 8:35 PM ^

Look through this thread.  I don't think anyone has mentioned that they think Smith will be the starter next year.  And despite the fact that he's gained over 1,000 all-purpose yards, many of those yards have been somewhat unimpressive.  It's hard not to be the leading yardage gainer when you get the majority of the touches. 

So I would argue that Smith shouldn't have a horse in this race.

I honestly think Smith is the fourth-best running back on this team, maybe even fifth.

Rich Rodriguez went 15-22 in three seasons and got little production from the running back position.  I think it might be safe to assume that when it came to running backs, he didn't exactly make the best decisions while he was in Ann Arbor.


January 21st, 2011 at 8:27 AM ^

I absolutely agree.  RR conistently trotted Smith out in clutch short yardage situations like he had naked pictures of his wife.  I watched the videos of Smith from that those first practices and was excited as anyone else about how "shifty" he was.  However, I cannot see how anybody would think of the "shifty" little back as an everydown, between the tackles runner.  Also, if we are going to disallow Cox' stats because they came against lesser competition, do we have to adjust Denard's stats? Roundtree's?  Give me a break. 

Blue in Yarmouth

January 21st, 2011 at 8:34 AM ^

I don't agree with your evaluation of Cox (other than your point that everyone should love Cox, which like...obviously). I do remember him getting a couple carries this year and dancing around in the backfield and having RR got ape shit on him. Anyway, we just disagree that he could be the best RB on the team, I do agree that he has some skill.

On V. Smith, I can say I agree 100% with you. Full disclosure I have never been of the opinion that he should be our starting RB but that is because he has never done anything on the field to show me that he is better than any of the alternatives (short of blocking perhaps). He breaks zero tackles and fumbles way too much.

I think it is a four horse race, as I think Hopkins would have a shot in this offense. In the end though, I think it will be Shaw winning it. He is a big back with great speed who can block and break tackles. I still see the others getting some snaps though. Perhaps this is more what I hope than what I think will happen because honestly, I have no idea.


January 20th, 2011 at 8:51 PM ^

RR has found good runners but I strongly believe they were a product of his system. Pat White and Steve Slaton were tremendous college backs that were properly utilized in RR's spread offense. When they got to the NFL, they were nothing more than good backups or change of pace players. And yes I know a lot of that has to do with their small stature.


January 20th, 2011 at 10:02 PM ^

i like vince a lot. he's real good in space. he was tentative on that recovering knee all year. if he is like that next year, then he will never recover. but he should be and will be an asset for this team. but like i said earlier, i think shaw is the most complete back. 

and i'll admit i didn't read much of your guys' assessment of mike cox. but i will tell you the reason he didnt play had nothing to do with his physical talent. he might be the most physically gifted RB on the team. the problem was that he started playing football i believe junior year of high school. he is still learning. 

the most positive thing to take is that we have a bunch of running backs who are all capable of breaking out.

vince can have a big year coming back from a knee injury. he's quick and shifty.

shaw can have a big year. senior leader ready to show people what he can do with his speed and surprising power, with hopefully no injuries. 

cox can break out with his physical abilities and outstanding jump cut. 

fitz could break out because he is a natural runner. he looks comfortable as he runs. 

the question is, who breaks out?


January 20th, 2011 at 9:27 PM ^

Since when is 900 APY considered a benchmark as a stud RB at Michigan? If he had 900 yards rushing alone, sure. But 900 APY with more fumbles in one season than Mike Hart's entire career? I think not. Welcome to the scout team, Mr. Smith.


January 30th, 2011 at 10:32 PM ^

But this same argument could have been made against Kenny Demens before he entered the lineup.  Ezeh wasn't great, but Demens was behind him, so he must have been even worse, right?

Sometimes coaches get it wrong.  Brandent Englemon used to start every year on the bench and then always found his way into the lineup by the end of September, when the "superior" guy at safety didn't pan out.  And of course, Lloyd Carr once was convinced that Drew Henson was the best QB on the roster in 1999 (and went to a platoon largely as a favor to Brady, the returning starter).