One of the main reasons why the Michigan Wolverines were unable to meet high expectations in 2012 was the lack of a consistent rushing attack. Rising fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has already proven he is not the answer to the problem.
Following a 1,000-yard season in 2011, Toussaint established himself as Michigan's starting running back until a DUI arrest in late July landed him in hot water with the coaching staff. Toussaint wound up being suspended for the Wolverines' season opener against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Youngstown, Ohio, product only managed to rush for more than 62 yards in three games last season, two of which were against the lowly UMass Minutemen and Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Most of Michigan's problems running the ball last season stemmed from mediocre play by the offensive line, which had to replace All-American center David Molk and standout right tackle Mark Huyge, but Toussaint did not look anything like the back he was two years ago.
The 5'10", 202-pounder struggled making his reads in the backfield and did more dancing than running through the holes his offensive line managed to open up from time to time.
Fortunately for Toussaint, his backups did not perform much better.
Sophomore Thomas Rawls had a much more downhill rushing style than Toussaint, though it only amounted to 242 yards and four touchdowns on 57 carries.
Senior utility back Vincent Smith and redshirt freshman Justice Hayes had 56 attempts for 177 yards and three touchdowns between them, so it is safe to say Michigan's backfield didn't exactly have opposing defenses losing much sleep.
The only reason the Wolverines generated any kind of offense on the ground last year was because of Denard Robinson, who turned in a 1,266-yard campaign and led Michigan in rushing for the third straight season.
Toward the end of last season, Toussaint finally looked like he had returned to form. He rushed for 92 yards on just 18 carries and caught a 28-yard touchdown pass in Michigan's Nov. 10 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats.
Three carries and 31 yards into the Wolverines' clash with the Iowa Hawkeyes the very next week, Toussaint suffered a serious ankle injury and missed the final two games of his redshirt junior campaign.
It is unclear at this time if Toussaint will be able to shake off the injury and have a chance to be a productive back for Michigan again, but even if he does make a full recovery, the Wolverines should look to the newest members of their team to become the focal point of Al Borges' pro-style offense.
The most intriguing option at running back right now is 5-star prospect Derrick Green (per Rivals), who recently committed to Michigan and possesses a potent combination of size, speed and toughness that will allow him to spearhead a downhill rushing attack.
Another incoming freshman with the ability to establish a physical presence running the ball for the Wolverines is 3-star recruit Deveon Smith (per Rivals).
Freshman tailback Drake Johnson spent 2012 redshirting, but is also among the contenders to become the starter for 2013.
In the grand scheme of things, though, none of these running backs are going to have much success if the three new offensive linemen struggle to come together and fail to win the battle in the trenches against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and much of the Big Ten.
Who should be Michigan's starting running back in 2013?
There will be no more dazzling runs from Denard Robinson to hide the mistakes made up front. The bookends of the line are strong, with Taylor Lewan back for a fifth season and Michael Schofield firmly entrenched at right tackle, but the interior positions are pretty big question marks at this point.
Michigan will draw one step closer to separating itself from the Rich Rodriguez era, and one of the final things to be phased out of its offense is Toussaint.
The former 4-star all-purpose back (per Rivals) will have as good of a chance as anyone to win the starting job this spring, though Toussaint is likely going to be the No. 2 or No. 3 player at his position come Aug. 31.
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