The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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100 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW the impediment they must overcome that's put them perhaps a half step behind Smith in the race to start. Smith, meanwhile, is all about improving his speed. He'll never be the fastest back in the Big Ten — even on his team — but it hasn't slowed him, and he shrugs when it's brought up. "It doesn't bother me," he said. "Yeah, I've definitely got to work on it, but that's the least of my worries right now. Learning the offense is the No. 1 thing on my mind, and I'm definitely getting it. It's really easy to me right now. I want to know it just as good as the quarterback knows it, learn all the reads, know what every person is doing on the line, what routes receivers are even running." There's no concern at all, Hayes said, that at least one won't emerge. Each showed flashes of what they do best in the spring while embracing the opportunity to im- prove on his weaknesses. When one gets down on himself, the oth- ers are there to lift him up. "We're pretty tight as a group," Hayes said. "They stay in a dorm and I stay off campus, and [redshirt freshman] Ross Douglas, who joined us in the spring, is off campus, but I try to come out and hang out with them a little bit. "In terms of skills, we all have them. If we didn't have the skill, we wouldn't be here. De'Veon has speed and power, Der- rick too. Ross has great speed. Drake has speed and power. Everybody brings some- thing a little different to the table. I feel like when we get out there it will be a great competition." Nussmeier, he added, is known for play- ing a lot of running backs. If more than one deserves a shot, more than one will get it. "That's great because it makes defenses difficult to watch film on us with so much going on," Hayes added. "It's hard opposed to looking at one running back and trying to read him when you're watching film." Johnson has become the group's X-fac- tor, a team-first player whose attitude has been an inspiration to all of them. "He was there with us last year," Smith said. "Obviously he was in the training room a lot so we didn't get a chance to see him as much as we wanted, but he was in there working. He'll show you when we get into the fall. We missed him in the spring. He wanted to do more than what they al- lowed him to, but he was out getting his feet wet. "He's a good friend. I'm happy he's back and healthy, but even when he wasn't I'd come to him sometimes for training tips on getting faster, how to get in even better shape. He has a great heart and personality, Following In the Footsteps Of … Comparing three of Michigan's backs to other former Wolverines: Derrick Green — Kevin Grady (2005-09) Why Grady: The build, for one. Both were compact guys capable of moving piles, and while Grady never met the hype (due in part to a knee injury, and also because he played behind all-time leading rusher Mike Hart), he had some ability. Grady rushed for 483 yards in 2005, his freshman year. What it could mean: Green is in better shape than Grady was at his best, and he's got better speed. There's also no obvious No. 1 in front of him, giving him the chance to be the man from the get-go this year. He's hungry, and it's there for the taking. Overall: Both Grady and Smith are former five-star products that obviously showed plenty at the prep level to earn the honors. Neither had the type of freshman years expected, but running backs coach Fred Jackson believes Green has the potential to be an NFL back. Grady never got there, but Green still has three years to prove himself. De'Veon Smith — LeRoy Hoard (1987-89) Why Hoard: Hoard, a second-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in 1990, wasn't a burner, but he was a load to bring down. He once quipped, "If you need one yard, I'll get you three. If you need five yards, I'll get you three" — but he also broke a number of runs like Smith's 38-yarder against Ohio State last season. And Smith has similar power. What it could mean: Hoard emerged as a fullback turned tailback because of his ability to move the chains by breaking tackles for bigger runs. Smith is probably a better run blocker at this point in his career, and he's got similar attributes. Overall: Hoard never rushed for more than 832 yards in a season, but he was a load. He notched only five runs of more than 30 yards in his career, but had six 100-yard games despite not having the top end speed. It's easy to envision Smith having a similar career. Justice Hayes — Fitzgerald Toussaint (2010-13) Why Toussaint: Hayes is extremely tough and he's plenty fast with escape ability like Toussaint — he's just not very big. He has the want-to when it comes to pass blocking, but does he have the physical ability? Toussaint struggled at times in that area, and it remains to be seen if Hayes can do it at 195 pounds. What it could mean: Hayes could be that change of pace back with U-M's bigger backs, the lightning in a thunder and lightning combination. He's also got great hands, so he could be a weapon out of the backfield. He's just got to be able to block to be out there more often. Overall: Toussaint's best year came when quarterback Denard Robinson was his decoy, and Hayes won't have that luxury. He's now a smaller back in a power offense, and 195 pounds is tough sledding against big, physical Big Ten defenses. — Chris Balas Classmates De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green flashed their potential as rookies in 2013, with Smith compiling 57 yards versus Ohio State and Green racking up 79 against Northwestern. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN 98-101.Green/Hayes/Smith.indd 100 6/18/14 4:00 PM

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