Michigan Football: How Switch to Pro-Style Attack Will Cure Tailback Woes

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Michigan Football: How Switch to Pro-Style Attack Will Cure Tailback Woes
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The collisions of pads and helmets will once again be clearly heard across Stadium Blvd. and into the golf course parking lot.

Spring Practice 2013 will return a Michigan offense synonymous with Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr.

What you'll see is basically smash-mouth football dominated by downhill-running tailbacks, textbook-blocking fullbacks and tall, drop-back throwing quarterbacks.

You'll see the offense Brady Hoke promised when he arrived in the winter of 2011 but was forced to abandon while Denard Robinson was setting a slew of records and ending losing streaks to Ohio State and Michigan State.

What you won't see is the quarterback being the team's leading rusher or the lead tailback having just 391 rushing yards after eight games.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges will be the architect of the new offense, which will resemble Michigan's old tailback attack. Since Borges is a student of the NFL West Coast offense, you might notice a few components of that concept, which features three-step drops and a horizontal passing game (Borges later morphed the West Coast into an up-tempo version called the Gulf Coast when he was at Auburn).

The Michigan offense will be primarily about moving the chains, extending time of possession and keeping the defense off the field. The Wolverines will do it with a stout running game, which will then set up play-action passes, draws and screens.

As a bonus, this brand of smash-mouth football will make players tougher on both sides of football. This will allow the Wolverines to someday compete—at least physically—with the Alabamas and Southern Cals of the college football world.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Michael Hart (20)

Michigan will again feature tailbacks like Michael "Little Brother" Hart (5,040 career yards), Anthony "A-Train" Thomas (4,472), Tyrone Wheatley (4,178) and Butch Woolfolk (3,861).

The list of NFL quarterbacks, receivers and linemen is just as impressive. In last season's Super Bowl, quarterback Tom Brady (Patriots) nearly had the game won before Mario Manningham (Giants) made that shocking catch along the sideline.

Tight ends will once again play a huge role not just in blocking but in receiving too.

Michigan may already have an upcoming star in freshman Devin Funchess, who could be the next Jerame Tuman or even Jim Mandich.

Thanks to Devin Gardner's performance last week in Minneapolis it appears the quarterback position is set for at least another year. Wolverine fans were hoping incoming five-star freshman Shane Morris wouldn't have to start right away, and it appears they received their wish.

Perhaps the most anticipated battle next spring will be at tailback. There's no question the new system will be a huge help.  The top tailback will have a chance to establish a rhythm, seeing that he'll carry the ball more than 20 times a game.

Fitz Toussaint will get an opportunity to prove this season was a fluke, since last season he put together several outstanding performances, even though he sometimes struggled against topnotch competition.

The running back who fits the best in the new system is Thomas Rawls, who likes to run between the tackles and can gain yardage after initial contact.

Adding to the fray will be power back DeVeon Smith, a four-star recruit from Warren, Ohio, and freshman Drake Johnson, who is on a path to redshirt this season.

Johnson, from across the street at Pioneer High,  just might be the surprise of the bunch. As a high school senior, Johnson gained 2,805 yards and scored 37 touchdowns before becoming an All-American in the 110-meter high hurdles.

Michigan also has it's eyes on 6'0", 220-lb Derrick Green, Scout.com's No. 2 rated running back. Green has the Wolverines in his top six along with Auburn, Mississippi, Oregon, Virginia Tech and Tennessee.

The Wolverines also have room for the speedy scat backs, who can catch balls out of the backfield and just plain fly. Both Justice Hayes, who's had a few carries this year, and Dennis Norfleet, who's primarily a return man, could see time in the backfield, too.

The situation at wide receiver, fullback and the offensive line are all very similar. Each area may not be blessed with superstars, but plenty of depth and potential exist.

In the 2013 recruiting class, Michigan is bringing in the No. 1, No. 2, No. 6 and No. 23 rated offensive linemen. It might take a few years before Patrick Kugler, Chris Fox, Kyle Bosch and Logan-Tulley Tillman will be playing together. In the meantime, Taylor Lewan (LT) will have the only secure position when spring practice arrives.

Stephen Hopkins and Joe Kerridge return to the now critical fullback spot, but expect incoming freshman Wyatt Shallman to push both of them.

The final piece of the puzzle is wide receiver. The top returning wide outs are Jeremy Gallon, Jerald Robinson Drew Dileo, and Jeremy Jackson. but look for serious position battles next spring. The Wolverines are still pursuing highly regarded Laquon Treadwell, but the competition is getting fiercer by the day.

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