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November 20, 2013
Derrick Green excited to get his chance
Since the day Derrick Green committed to Michigan as the No. 1 running back and the No. 8 overall player in the 2013 class, Wolverine fans have eagerly awaited to see him get a chance to shine at the college level.
Heading into last weekend's game at Northwestern, the Wolverines were struggling mightily to move the ball on the ground, with a combined negative-69 rushing yards in games against Michigan State and Nebraska. Green had received spot duty throughout the season, but to little effectiveness. In seven games, he tallied 40 carries for 116 yards (2.9 yards per carry).
Fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who was held out of several practices last week with concussion-like symptoms, was held out of the game against the Wildcats.
And running backs coach Fred Jackson told Green he'd be the first one in "at the last minute."
"I am always nervous before every game, but once I get that initial contact, that's when I start getting going," Green said. "When he told me, I knew what I was going to have to do to help the team."
And he certainly did.
Green set career-highs in carries (19) and yards (79) against Northwestern, rushing for 4.2 yards per attempt. He now has 59 attempts for 195 yards and two touchdowns on the year.
Another rookie, De'Veon Smith, who had not taken a carry since the Wolverines' season-opening win over Central Michigan, also got in on the action, with eight carries for 41 yards (5.1 yards per carry).
Green was excited to get his shot.
On a 23-yard rush up the sideline, Green cut through the hole, outraced a linebacker and ran through a Northwestern safety on his way out of bounds.
"It was a lot of fun, just to run the ball as hard as I could to help my team be victorious," Green said. "And it was fun to be able to run the guy over. I'm definitely more for bowling people over than making that cut."
But he says waiting in the wings for a chance like Saturday's was not frustrating. He knew he had a lot of work to do, specifically in learning the playbook and adapting to blitz schemes and picking up rushers as a pass-blocker.
"Being a freshman, there is a lot to learn," Green said. "The speed of the game is really different from high school, but I'm getting used to it. And there is a lot you have to learn to be able to pick up the different blitzes and everything teams are going to throw at you. Fitz has been helping me out a lot with learning the plays and pass protection. It's something you have to get used to.
"I am watching film with Fitz every chance we get. And in practice, if I do something wrong, he corrects me, and if I do something right, he praises me. I look at him like a big brother, and he helps me tremendously."
And he had to get in shape.
Green suffered an ankle injury this summer that kept him away from the field. He said after the injury, he "got down on" himself - and reported to camp at 240 pounds.
He down to 230 now, after paying closer attention to his diet and putting in some extra work.
"It was a lot of weight to drop, but that's what I knew I needed to do to see the field and play at my best," Green said. "I definitely feel better. I knew 240 wasn't for me. I got down to 230, and I feel good, agility-wise, speed-wise."
After the game, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that Toussaint was still the team's tailback.
But after watching the film and seeing the production from Green and Smith, the Wolverines may use a more by-committee approach than in previous weeks.
"I think that's a hard question because Fitz has done so good at some of the things the last couple years," Hoke said. "So there's a fit for all three."
Offensive coordinator Al Borges did not say whether the Wolverines would feature more Green in the game plan this week, either.
Borges will take a wait-and-see approach to practice, heading into the Iowa game.
But he does like what he has seen from Green.
"If you can get a rhythm running the ball, just like if you get a rhythm passing the ball, you can pound the other team into submission," Borges said. "We didn't reach that point, I wish we could have. But you can do that.
"And big backs are usually the best at doing that, because after a while, you just get tired of tackling them."