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April 15, 2013Michigan fans were pleasantly surprised to see fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint trot out onto the Michigan Stadium field in full uniform for last weekend's spring game.
He did not take any reps in the scrimmage, but Toussaint, who suffered a grisly ankle injury in the Wolverines' win over Iowa last year, was walking around fine.
And even offensive coordinator Al Borges has been surprised by how quickly Toussaint has bounced back from the injury.
"I asked him, 'Do you think you could have gone?'" Borges said Monday. "Not that I wanted him to. We had no intention of ever doing that. And he said, 'Coach, in the last couple weeks, I think I could have gone in there and taken a few.' I said, 'Awesome.'
"Maybe he's just being optimistic. But he is just dying to play. I can sense it. He is jumping around. He can't wait to play. He's a baller. And we are going to give him a chance to get back in when he's back in the fold."
Borges admitted that he did not think Toussaint would be as healthy as he is at this point in his recovery.
"The injury looked so graphic," Borges said. "You always kind of assume it's worse than it is when it looks like that. But it really wasn't that bad. Because his work ethic is so good, and because he is so intent on getting back, it's not totally surprising. But a little surprising. If you looked at that injury, all of us would have guess that he wouldn't be where he is right now."
In the last two years, Toussaint has compiled 1,555 yards and 14 touchdowns.
With Toussaint out of the lineup, the Wolverines have relied on junior Thomas Rawls, redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes, sophomore Dennis Norfleet and redshirt freshman Drake Johnson to get through the spring.
Rawls showed some good moves in the spring game, compiling roughly 36 yards on six carries (stats from the scrimmage are unofficial), including a 14-yard touchdown that he bounced off the left end, behind a big block from redshirt sophomore guard Kyle Kalis.
Borges explained that, because Michigan split carried between so many backs this spring, it was hard for any particular one of them to stand out from the pack.
"That's not unusual for running backs," he said. "In spring football, you have four or five of them, and you have a 60-play scrimmage where you're going to run the ball about half the time, maybe a little more. Do the math: when does a running back get a chance to gain enough inertia to prove that he can carry the ball 20 times? You could fire four of them and let the one carry it every single time, but you may be firing someone who should be carrying it.
"If he doesn't bust for a long run that everyone would notice, it's hard to get a feel for who will get the ball every time. In the fall, we will feed one guy a little more in the scrimmages.
"I know in 2011, with Fitz, we were through about half the year, and said, 'We're doing this doggone running back by committee thing' and final said, 'Alright, let's put him in there and see what he does.' And Fitz came to the surface, and I think Fitz will again before it's all said and done. You find out if he can win in the open field. But unless the kid is a phenom, it's hard to find out about him in the spring."
Borges has been exceedingly happy with the improvements he has seen from that position.
On Funchess, he said: "Funchess is a good receiving, and everyone knows it. He made one great adjustment on a throw, which didn't surprise anyone, because he does it all the time. With him, we wanted to get the rest of his game shored up, so we could get him in there more. So every time he goes in there, they don't know it's a pass. He did it. He took that to heart and improved his blocking, toughness, everything. As a coordinator, I was happy with where he started and where he finished. Danny Ferrigno would tell you the same thing."
On Williams, he said: "Last year, those kids were getting weaned a little bit. They hadn't played very much, and we were trying to find riles for them without giving them all of it, so they could be functional. Devin's role was to catch passes, and AJ's was to block. We're trying to get where they are both doing both."
And on Butt, the early-enrollee, he said: "He is a talented kid. Jake is one of those guys who should be at his prom, but he is exactly what we recruited. He's like any kid that comes to us: he needs to get stronger and do some things. But he possesses the skillset to play the position, and that is what we care about. If he has that skillset, it's our job to get him stronger and faster and more comfortable with the system. He has really been a nice edition."
All three are more well-rounded, Borges explained.
Because he can trust them to block, run routes and line up in various schemes, Borges believes the tight ends will play a bigger role in the offense, moving forward.
"I am a tight end kind of guy. I love tight ends, and I always have," Borges said. "We tell them when we recruit them, 'When this thing it working the way it should, you have died and gone to tight end heaven, because this is a great place to play tight end.' We don't just play with one. We will play with two, and last year a couple times, we played with three.
"And we're not putting them out there to put them out there. There are so many things you can do with that position, if you have a good, versatile athlete. It's limitless, and it raises hell with the defense. A guy that can attack the middle of the field quickly in the passing game and be able to block on the line of scrimmage, that is good stuff. The NFL epitomizes it."