February 27, 2013

Roundtable: Who starts at running back vs. Central?

Michigan's running backs stand to make significant gains this spring after a disastrous 2012 campaign in which tailbacks and fullbacks rushed for only 946 yards. What should U-M fans expect from the running backs in 2013? We discuss in today's roundtable.

Who will be Michigan's opening-day starter? Who will be starting against Ohio State?

Senior Editor John Borton: The temptation is to go with one of the flashy freshmen, but here's a thought that fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint comes back from his devastating leg injury and takes the field in the fall. While the Wolverines could see a heavy dose of Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith along the way, Toussaint starts - and finishes - the 2013 campaign as the starter.

Senior Writer Michael Spath: I would have argued for anyone but senior Fitzgerald Toussaint but then I saw Adrian Peterson rush for over 2,000 yards a season after a major knee injury, and I'm inclined to believe anything is possible with enough motivation. And Toussaint is motivated after a down year interrupted by off-field issues and his late-season leg injury.

Toussaint needs 358 yards to become the 21st Wolverine in school history with 2,000 in a career. Here's saying he gets it in week three against Akron, and flourishes all year, starting against the Buckeyes in the regular-season finale.

Recruiting Editor Tim Sullivan: The Opening-Day duties are almost certain to fall to an unproven player, unless Fitz Toussaint's recovery from injury happens on a much quicker timetable than expected. The most experienced back is Thomas Rawls, but after he seemed to slide near the end of last year, it's a big opportunity for Justice Hayes. He redshirted as a freshman, and has now had plenty of time to add mass to his frame, which was listed at just 175 pounds coming out of high school. He gets the nod - but not too heavy a workload with Michigan spreading the wealth against Central Michigan.

Will U-M have a 1,000-yard rusher this season?

Borton: No, but they'll have a few who combine for upwards of 2,500 rushing yards. The three already mentioned, redshirt freshman Drake Johnson, and redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes all see action, with a couple emerging in the 800- to 900-yard range.

Spath: Sans Denard Robinson, someone will get the majority of his carries, and while the staff could balance those attempts between three or four runners, they would prefer to utilize just one or two go-to guys. Toussaint will get 250 carries, Derrick Green will get another 100-150. With ample opportunity, a stronger offensive line to run behind, plus a play-action passing attack that has linebackers on their heels, Toussaint will go over 1,200 yards.

Sullivan: The Wolverines have put together a pretty strong stable of backs, and while the running attack should be vastly improved from last year (out of the tailback position, at least), there will be more bodies to go around than carries. More than a couple Wolverines hit 500, but nobody eclipses 1,000 yards on the year.

Should Michigan specifically utilize a third-down back and if so, who should that be?

Borton: It's better if Michigan does not feature a designated third-down back, like it did with Vincent Smith the past couple of years. That would mean it has a do-it-all back that doesn't need to come off the field for pass protection, etc. But with Toussaint coming back from injury and other promising backs facing a steep learning curve, it could happen again.

One possibility … redshirt freshman Drake Johnson, who caused a few rumbles during bowl practices. He's said to be coming along well (Brady Hoke at one point referencing the desire to play redshirted freshmen in the bowl, sans penalty), and it's possible he could fill the Smith role.

Sullivan: Unless he takes the starting job an runs with it on opening day, Justice Hayes' skillset is great for a third down back. He has the ability to motion into the slot or catch out of the backfield. The one question - given his size coming out of high school - is blocking ability. If he's been able to pick that up in the last two years, he's a classic West Coast Offense third-down guy.

How many yards does Derrick Green rush for in 2013?

Borton: Put him down for 723. Green steps forward as a significant back in Michigan's offense, and takes over at times when the going gets tough for Toussaint physically. If the fifth-year senior can't go, all bets are off.

Spath: Five-star tailbacks have averaged just a shade north of 500 yards the past five seasons, and Green will at least equal that tally because of the opportunity awaiting him in Ann Arbor.

Sullivan: If Fitzgerald Toussaint doesn't return to full health (and 2011 form) all season, there's a good chance that Green is Michigan's leading rusher. If he approaches the 800-yard mark in Michigan's crowded backfield, consider his freshman campaign a success.

Who are the top-three rushers on the team by season's end?

Spath: Toussaint, Green and quarterback Devin Gardner, who goes for about 350.

Sullivan: Fitzgerald Toussaint, Derrick Green, and Justice Hayes.

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