The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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92 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW RB "Last year you had two freshmen playing some in Derrick and De'Veon, but they couldn't play but certain situations because things were so complicated they couldn't do it," he said. "They had the physical bodies to do it, but mentally it was too dif- ficult for them to ever be in that position to even try. The few times you'd try they'd fail, then you don't want to destroy their confidence so you don't put them in those situations again. "It's going to definitely help these kids the way we are going to play football now. It will help them tremendously." Offense is the sum of its parts, though, and how much the running game improves will depend on the line. The backs concentrated on themselves in the spring, with positive results. Green, who was more than 240 pounds when he arrived on campus, dropped weight and was down to 223 at the end of May, looking chiseled and fit. Smith made huge improvements in pass blocking, redshirt junior Justice Hayes made a move by adding weight (to 190 pounds) and Johnson returned to 100 percent, though he was still held out of contact as a precaution. The competition to start will begin full throttle in the fall, with newly converted defensive back Ross Douglas also in the mix. Smith enters as the favorite, having proven his worth as the most well rounded of the backs — at least for now. "De'Veon showed a little bit more than the other two guys in the spring," Jackson said. "I'm not saying he's way ahead of them, but he showed a little more in both blocking and running, the combina- tion of the two things. Justice Hayes was probably right there beside him, and Derrick was just a little bit behind in the pass protection part of it." That's not necessarily indicative of how things will play out in the fall, but it's a starting point heading into summer and fall. While Smith is no burner, he's got plenty of skills — and that is more im- portant to Jackson. "He's as fast as [former Michigan running back] Mike Hart," Jackson said. "What Mike had was great balance, great vision, ac- celeration, all the other stuff — he just didn't have that speed. You don't just go running week after week for 200 yards and can't run." The point being, you don't have to be a speedster to be a great back. There are only so many Tyrone Wheatleys, the Michigan standout back of the early 1990s with sprinter's speed in a 220-plus pound body. "Chris Perry wasn't a burner, either, and you don't have to be," Jackson said of Michigan's 2003 Doak Walker Award winner as the nation's best running back. "It's nice to have, but I'll bet in the NFL of 32 teams, there aren't 10 guys who run under 4.5 seconds in the 40. "I look at what scouts are looking for when they draft a back, and on a list of one to 14, speed is No. 8 or 9. It's not the number one thing." Smith might be the slowest of the four backs competing for the starting job, but his toughness, vision and willingness to pass protect set him apart. PRESEASON ANALYSIS: RUNNING BACKS Starter ✪ ✪ ✪ There's talent here, but none of it is proven. Derrick Green was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, but he didn't show the flashes of his ability you'd expect to see from an elite back. De'Veon Smith and Justice Hayes only notched 28 carries be- tween them, while Drake Johnson is the wild card here. He's got speed, toughness and hands, and might be the most well rounded of the group. Depth ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪ There's depth, but not experienced depth. Four capable athletes have the ability to start, and unless one or two separate themselves, each of them could play. Hayes is the most elusive, Johnson is the fastest and has great hands, Smith is the toughest, and Green has the best combination of size and speed. One of them needs to be very good, but it's comforting to know there are others behind him in case of injury. X-Factor How much will quarterback Devin Gardner run? It was more than they'd hoped last year, and the fifth-year senior took a pounding. He carried 165 times, only 20 less than starting running back Fitz Toussaint, and lost 346 yards to finish with a net of 483. Some of those were scrambling yards, but there are times they'll have to run him to keep defenses off balance. If the line and the running backs help protect Gardner, it could go a long way toward keeping him fresh and healthy in November. Overall ✪ ✪ ✪ Michigan's days of recruiting smaller backs — and by smaller we don't mean short (the school's all-time leading career rusher is 5-9 Mike Hart) — might be over. The Wol- verines want power backs that move chains and punish defenses, and they've got three candidates in Smith, Green and Johnson. Many will point to last year as evidence that none of them are ready for the big stage, but the offensive line simply wasn't up to par. A better showing from the men up front could allow the talent in the backfield to shine. Note: Star rankings are made on a 1-5 scale. Derrick Green approached the offseason with a sense of urgency after rushing for just 270 yards on 83 carries (3.3 yards per attempt) during his freshman campaign last year. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL "The first thing he said when he came in was he wanted us to create a identity of who we are. If people looked at us on film they'd say, 'Michigan does this' as opposed to saying, 'I'm not sure exactly what they do offensively.'" RUNNING BACKS COACH FRED JACKSON ON NEW OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR DOUG NUSSMEIER 91-97.RBs.indd 92 6/19/14 12:11 PM

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