2010 Preview: Running Back

Welcome to the season preview of the 2010 Michigan Wolverines. In this series of posts we'll dive head first into each position, providing in-depth analysis of all the main contenders and a little bit of speculation just for fun.


Running Back

Outgoing: Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, Kevin Grady
Projected Starters: Michael Shaw (Jr.), Vincent Smith (So.)
Contenders: Michael Cox (So.), Fitzgerald Toussaint (Fr.)

First impressions:
Losing 3 seniors with the size and speed of Minor, Brown and Grady is not going to do this offense any favors. Those guys saw the bulk of the work load in 2008 and 2009. Granted both Minor and Brown dealt with nagging injuries throughout the last two seasons, but when they were on...especially Minor, he was one of the most formidable backs in the conference. Replacing those workhorses will not be easy, but because of those injuries some younger guys got to see some action. We will miss Minor and Brown, but I am confident we have some very capable (and faster) backs ready to step up.

Michael Shaw & Vincent Smith:

The leaders in the clubhouse, so to speak, are Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith. Shaw had 42 carries in 2009 for 185 yards, and Smith saw 48 carries for 276 yards. While Shaw is a little bit more of a traditional back in terms of size (6-1, 181) compared to Smith (5-6, 169), both will likely see plenty of carries as well as receptions. The mark of the a good running back in this type of offense is the ability to catch the ball in space and make big plays.

It has been said that Vincent Smith is one of, if not the fastest player on the team. That is a huge departure from the norm for Michigan running backs. Whether we like it or not, the days of Tyrone Wheatley, Anthony Thomas, Chris Perry and Brandon Minor seem to have come to and end in Ann Arbor. The hallmark of the spread-option offense is lots of small, fast backs. The days of seeing a Michigan back get 30+ carries in a game may be over.

Michael Cox

It seems like Michael Cox (6-0, 210) has been around longer than he has. But 2009 was the first time he saw the field. He only had 13 carries last year in 4 games, but he totaled 113 yards for a 8.7 yard average and had 2 TDs. The bulk of his playing time was on special teams.

Expect to see more and more of Michael in the 2010 edition of the Michigan offense. He's proven to be a young but dependable back. As we said before, we're going to need able bodies to rotate in this offense at the RB position, so that's where Cox can be a factor this year.

Fitzgerald Toussaint

Toussaint made a nice splash in the spring game this year. As an incoming freshman its tough to really gauge how his HS ability (and hype) can translate to the college game. But it seemed from my vantage point that Rodriguez recruited the perfect kind of back for his system. He's clearly got the head for the spread-option style offense, and his specs are where they should be (5-10, 199) for a freshman just entering this system.

The huge upside is that he enrolled early and got the time to train with the team and play in the spring game. I fully expect to see Fitzgerald on the field this fall. And if Shaw or Smith or Cox go down with an injury, Toussaint could be tapped to start if he progresses well from where he was at this spring.

While there is a huge upside to having small fast running backs, there is also a huge liability...especially in the Big Ten. We all remember very well how much Sam McGuffie was trounced his freshman year...and ultimately forced him to transfer to a lesser conference. The reason Michigan had always had big and tough running backs is because the Big Ten has regularly been a big and tough kind of conference.

I like guys like Vincent Smith because they provide that x-factor that you can't always explain, but you're glad he's on your team. But he's going to have to bulk up and get bigger if he's going to be a dependable back who can get 150 carries a year.

I expect the larger and more traditional backs like Shaw and Cox will see the bulk of the carries this year with both hovering around 500 yards for the season. The wild-card is Fitzgerald Toussaint. A lot of these guys remind me of Mike Hart in that they can really run well, and can ***hopefully*** not fumble the ball.

No question...the success of our RBs is going to be directly related to the success of our offensive line. And that's where we'll pick up next time in our 2010 season preview.

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