2012 Starter: Fitzgerald Toussaint, RS Senior
Expected Back up: Derrick Green, True Freshman
Yes, Michigan has depth at this position. Most running backs are 3 stars or above with plenty of 4's and one 5. Michigan is stacked at this position and there won't be enough snaps to go around. Since Fitz is coming off a serious leg injury and Green is a true freshman, my following take is 100% speculation but hopefully a good one.
Michigan's running game last year was pretty much Denard and everyone else. Michigan rushed for 2389 total yards with Denard getting 1266 and Fitz only gaining 514. Fitz struggled before his injury and most believe it was due to the offensive line doing a poor job of pulling and opening holes for all the running backs. I think the OL struggles were accurate but a clear sign that Big Al had trouble really understanding how to use Denard's skill set effectively. It's much more then letting Denard go, it's about proper scheme, Oline blocking and play calls.
As we all know, per ESPN Vincent Smith continues to get his head removed by Clowney 100 times a day and Norfleet in now a slot WR after moving to CB late last year. So there is an open spot for third down back as well.
The expectation is that Fitz is healthy and ready to take starter snaps at RB this year. It's also expected that Michigan wants to run down hill and will have a similar model to Alabama where a couple high profile guys gets tons of carries each game. Fitz and Green are expected to be those two guys.
What to do with all these guys?
Short Yardage Back: The easy answer here is Rawls but I don't think the coaches have a lot of confidence in him right now. He has been going down on first contact and has had trouble holding on to the ball. My guess is this goes to Green or one of the full backs.
Full Backs: Joe Kerridge and Sione Houma are expected to split time at FB, with maybe true freshman Wyatt Shallman getting some hybrid FB/RB snaps as well.
Third Down Back: Is wide open folks. Justice Hayes and Drake Johnson are the two guys competing for this spot. We have been waiting for Justice to break out and Drake got some good spring practice buzz. Either guy has a nice opportunity to be the 3rd down guy and a speed back that can be a nice compliment to the power of Fitz and Green. The winner of this job will go to the guy that can pass protect. I would like to see Justice get some time and some opportunities to break some long runs/screens. He only had 18 total carries in 2012. In comparison, Jeremy Gallon had 11.
Who is the odd man out?
I'm guessing Thomas Rawls unless he has something we haven't seen.
Hard to predict right now but the best candidates are De'Veon Smith and Wyatt Shallman. I have a $1 on the Red Shirt going to Wyatt. I'm interested in how Big Al is planning to use Wyatt in his offense.
My guess is De'Veon Smith who is getting some nice buzz now that Green has missed a couple of practices. He could sneak into the #2 role if Green's ankle keeps him out of practice. There is also plenty of talk if Green will be effective at 240 pounds.
If Hayes doesn't win that 3rd down/speed back, I expect he might look to move to slot WR to get on the field.
Big Al and Brady Hoke at the end of the season would love to look back and say they had two - 1000 yard rushers. If Devin were to turn an ankle (please don't happen) these guys are going to be the entire offense and will have to win games for the Wolverines. I can't remember a time when Michigan had so many options at RB and there seems to be all types of power and speed backs to choose from. Running backs is one of the positions that freshman can easily contribute at with only pass protection being an issue. I expect we will see a ton of Green and Smith with Fitz getting most of the carries. If Green is effective early in the season, I would hope the coaches would consider putting the redshirt on Smith.
Freddy J's Take: