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Monday, August 29, 2011

Quickies: The Committee In The Backfield

The Low Down: Did Denard Robinson count as a running back last year? No? Shoot... Unlike the days yore, Michigan's running back situation was more of a running back by committee last season. If you would've asked Fred Jackson he would've said the committee had the same skill set but only better than this committee...
Remember these guys?
We know this not to be true... So what was the committee?
Presumed starter last year, I guess was, scat-back extrordinaire Vincent Smith. He did lead the team in rushing yards outside of Shoelace. Behind him was Brandon Minor version 2.0, Mike Shaw, who ran with rage right into lingering injuries. The 3rd back in the mix was meaty freshman, Stephen Hopkins. Next up, was high-school highlight tape super-star, Fitz Toussaint. Toussaint has been victim of the nagging injury plague seemingly, since his arrival on campus. He did take his first career carry 61 yds and followed it up with a TD on his next run. The official MGoBlue website lists his position last year as "superback", so that must be good... Lastly, we had Mike Cox who's career stat-line looks like one helluva good game: 19 carries 169 yds 2 TD's... The big problem with Cox, has been his lack of knowledge on the playbook.

If the committee was one, the committee back would've come in 19th in the country with 1297 yds on 264 carries. Not to shabby... The problem in my mind is that's 4 dudes who totaled just a smidgen under 400 yds less than your quarterback. But, then my mind is all like, "Denard though?"... "Denard..." Rich Rodriguez was fighting for his job and he needed to do what he had to do to win. None of the backs stood out more than the others so he stuck with what worked, Denard left, Denard right, Denard pass, Denard left, so on and so forth...

1 Year Later:
MANBALL!!! 1 RUNNING BACK!!! I wanted to stop here, but better judgement said I'd be selling you short.

Since Brady Hoke came in, he has placed an emphasis on this team establishing a power run game with a feature back to take the work load. I would suspect that of the 264 carries all the running backs combined got last year, Hoke and Borges would like to see about all of those go to 1 guy. The rest of the carries that don't go to Denard will be divided up between everybody else.

General consensus back in the spring was probably that you'd see Michael Cox or Stephen Hopkins take charge by the fall as the lead back. Both are bigger, stronger, bruising backs. Cox, who committed to this style of play for Lloyd Carr, was definitely excited to be back to running downhill...
“When I came in, I committed to coach Carr, and I committed to this type of system,” Cox said. “I'm definitely happy to be back in the system that I came here for.”
Much has seemed to change from then till now however. Michigan brought in two pretty highly-regarded recruits in consensus 4* Justice Hayes and under-the-radar 3* Thomas Rawls. Hayes was more fit for the spread and is likely to be a slot-type player for Michigan. He likely won't see the field for Michigan this year as a running back, but fall-camp reports suggest that, he could return punts or kicks. Rawls is like Mark Ingram only better. What say you Fred Jackson?
“Honestly, I did get a chance to watch Mark Ingram a few times,” Jackson said. “Mark is probably one of the best guys ever to come through here. Mark was great, but there’s something about this kid Thomas. If I was to compare them as high school backs, give me Thomas Rawls.”
So there's that... And then there's this..
Fitz Toussaint apparently blew up at the scrimmage last Saturday causing the internetz to go into an uproar and as recent as 8-23 Shaw is the projected default starter due to consistency.Vincent Smith is also pretty much locked into a 3rd down back. He's a great blocker and causes some matchup problems out of the backfield, with his pass catching abilities. There hasn't been much news on Cox or Hopkins, so with those guys we'll see.

I Know I'm Forgetting Something... OHH YAH... Fullback... Guess What? We will use one this year. John McColgan will be it and  I suspect that he will be relieved by Stephen Hopkins (maybe Steve Watson too) from time to time. 

Expectations: What is them?

Seriously, I want to sound smart here and say X, Y, & Z are for sure going to happen, but really if you have an idea, maybe you could email me and I'll post it. So, since this is my blog and nobody takes me seriously I am just going to take what I do know and mix it in with my best educated guess.

EDIT: I had this post about ready to go, got busy, and over the weekend Michigan had their scrimmage. Brady Hoke announced Shaw would most likely be the starter, more than likely backed up by Fitz.

So before the presser, I would've said Shaw starts by default, maybe gets backed up Fitz and only that because of practice hype. Thanks for reaffirming my thoughts Brady, I appreciate it.  Yeah, Shaw will start, how long his body can take the pounding of being the man at running-back, is yet to be determined. I like Fitz backing him up and taking over if Shaw goes down, if only for the reason I've had an affinity for Fitz since the first time I saw the gold that was his high-school highlight tape.

How good the offense looks early will be very important for the stat line of the RB's, If the offense struggles early, how long until Denard starts to see more and more designed runs? The offensive line in my opinion, should still be very solid and create many of  those running lanes for the backs. I will make my ridiculous prediction now and say that by the end of the season whomever our starting tailback is will amass over 1,000 yds by the end of the season. If I had to boldly predict who that'll be, I'd say Toussaint. That's my story and I am sticking to it. Next up, the wide receivers. As always, Go Blue!

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