Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson has been around the block - over 20 years at U-M alone, during which he's earned a reputation as an outstanding recruiter and coach. Churning out great backs isn't easy, he said, but he'll have options with which to work after adding three more to the mix in 2013.
Richmond (Va.) Hermitage standout Derrick Green, Novi (Mich.) Catholic Central's Wyatt Shallman and Warren (Ohio) Howland's De'Veon Smith will join current U-M backs Fitz Toussaint, Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes in fighting for time this fall.
Jackson had plenty of praise for Green recently, but he's been around long enough to realize it's not always the five-stars (which Green is) who win the job.
"It makes me think about recruiting Max Martin from Alabama, a highly ranked running back, and Mike Hart who was a three-star from New York and Syracuse didn't offer him," Jackson said. "Seeing him play, the ranking didn't mean anything
"Mike Hart taught me rankings didn't mean anything. I had to really beg Lloyd Carr to take him because nobody else wanted him. Now he's the all-time leading rusher in this school's history. I guess that's why rankings don't mean much to me."
Nor do small sample sizes when it comes to who's cranked out top running backs, he added.
"People say Alabama has had a great run with running backs the last three or four years, but that's about it," he said. "I don't see anybody else saying they've done better than us. You take the spread years out - before that, nobody did any better than we did. Alabama had good backs and a great line. You want to see a great line? Ask Notre Dame if that was a great line or not. That makes your back look better.
"We are working along those lines right now to get that line we used to have. Anthony Thomas never got hit in the backfield because he'd be on the other side of the line. You get that, you become a better back. We're getting back to that. You'll see the same type of guy as T.J. Yeldon or Eddie Lacy, Mark Ingram when everything is working for you. They have four draft choices on that o-line. We had four when Anthony played. With that kind of line, Fred Jackson could run for 200 yards. That makes a difference.
"Fitz was banged up early and then again this year, but he had a good year the year before. Part of that was David Molk was a great football player. Losing him hurt us. Those types of things add up to why a guy didn't do as much. They say, 'what's wrong with Fitz?' Nothing. We'll get some things fixed and be a better football team."
Jackson expects is returnees to improve, but he likes the three-man crop coming in, too.
"De'Veon is the same type of back as Derrick, just not as big," he said. "Derrick, I heard somebody say that he is similar to Anthony Thomas. I don't want to compare him to anyone other than he's different than Anthony and Chris Perry - he's built like Chris but his style reminds you of Anthony. Next fall you will see he is unique.
"On film, they are very similar. Derrick can roll for a big man. He was clocked at 4.4 at 240 pounds. De'Veon is 4.5, right there. He gets angry when you hit him. It ticks him off when you hit him. He just runs harder and harder after he gets hit. He's a contact frenzy kind of guy who seems like he thrives from contact."
Shallman (6-3, 245) has been compared to an Aaron Shea type, but he's a better runner as an H-back.
"Shea was a more talented receiver, but they are very similar blockers," Jackson said. "I like anything that big, strong and fast. I talked to a few people who saw him work out and they said he's the most powerful thing they've seen at that young age. He was banged up with hamstring last year, but he's very smart. I've known [Catholic Central coach] Tom Mach since the 1970s, and if Tom says he can do it, he can do it. I believe that."
Jackson still loves his smaller backs, too, including Toussaint, who he was pleased to see running around following his November injury. He really likes the thought of his big backs wearing down defenses in the fourth quarter, however.
"Those are the kinds that win championships in this league in November," he said. … "It makes a difference. Watch that national championship game, you saw linebackers and safeties saying, 'no sir, I don't want that.' They are getting out of the way."