April 30, 2013

Borton's Blog: RBs coming back

Michigan running backs rushed for a combined 946 yards last fall. In 2007, Mike Hart ran for 1,361. In 2003, Chris Perry piled up 1,674 yards on the ground.

Obviously, times are a changin' for Michigan football, in the back-to-the-future sense. The Wolverines of 2013 aren't going to have a quarterback run for 1,266 yards, like Denard Robinson did last season (or 1,176, like he did in 2011, and certainly not the 1,702 Robinson racked up in 2010).

Devin Gardner isn't and won't be a statue, by any means, but running the football isn't at the top of his job description. Given Michigan's presently anorexic-thin status at quarterback, getting exposed to multiple hits isn't even close.

No, the running is to be done by the running backs, which will make Michigan's upcoming fall camp particularly intriguing. You've got the former 1,000-yard rusher of two years ago, fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who saw his leg shattered at the end of last season but appears ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation.

You have a host of performers already on hand, carrying various degrees of time on the field and not much to point toward in terms of sure-fire success. And then there are the incoming freshmen, headlined by national No. 1 prep Derrick Green (5-11, 220), along with De'Veon Smith (5-11, 218) out of Ohio.

Combine the recruited rushing talent with an enormous emphasis on securing offensive linemen who can eventually crush interlopers in a fashion that would make Bo Schembechler beam, and you can see where this is going. The question remains, how soon does it arrive?

Style-wise, it happens now. Either Toussaint hits his stride again in the fall - and the guess here is, he makes a real run at it - or someone else steps up in a big way, especially by the start of the Big Ten season. Green, or Smith, or one of the more experienced backs, with sophomore Dennis Norfleet as a quicker, much smaller (5-7, 168) change-up back, will get a heavy dose.

Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges isn't crazy about running back by committee. He'll go there when forced, but he's definitely looking for someone to step up and go - just like Hart used to, and Perry, and Anthony Thomas, and a host of others who let the QBs do the throwing and took overland advantage of Michigan's punishing offensive lines.

Here's a look at the last 10 years of Michigan running backs production, obviously recently impacted by the Wolverines featuring the most prolific rushing quarterback the college game has ever known:

2012 - 946
2011 - 1,683
2010 - 1,314
2009 - 1,567
2008 - 1,403
2007 - 2,167
2006 - 2,266
2005 - 1,682
2004 - 1,880
2003 - 2,293

The days of the running back are definitely coming back at The Big House, and wherever the Wolverines take their show on the road. How much, how soon, will have a lot to say about whether they add a road date at Indianapolis to the schedule.

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