With all the talk, hype and hoopla surrounding the Michigan Wolverines’ 2014 class and 2015 efforts, it’s important not to let the 2013 class be shoved aside.
It’s easy to let Hoke’s second group of recruits get filed away and reopened for discussion come late summer and fall. But don’t forget that it was ranked No. 5 nationally and No. 2 in the Big Ten by 247Sports.com.
When analyzing what went wrong with Michigan in 2012, a simple look at the 2013 class and its potential early stars could answer a few questions pertaining to how issues will be corrected this fall.
Lacking in the Running Game
Fitz Toussaint just wasn’t it for the Wolverines in 2012. Forget about his 1,000-yard sophomore season, because the will-be senior certainly has something to prove this year. Toussaint was in the midst of what probably would have been his best game of the season before he suffered a gruesome broken leg injury Nov. 17 against Iowa.
Thirty-one yards on three carries—and then it was all over. He averaged 5.6 yards per tote in 2011, but struggled to string together 4-yard-a-carry efforts during his junior year.
Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes were adequate relievers in a sense, but Michigan’s running game never reached an apex—and Toussaint was supposed to get the Wolverines there.
Enter Derrick Green, a unanimously tabbed top-caliber running back of the 2013 class. At one time, he was ranked as high as the No. 1 running back, but 247Sports.com has him as the No. 4 guy at this point. Rivals.com has him as the “leader and best” among tailbacks entering college this fall.
A true Michigan-type, Green is 6’1” and 220 pounds of ouch for linebackers to handle. Rawls was often lauded for his hardnosed approach to smothering would-be tacklers, but Green has similar tank-like instincts too.
Green brings an SEC-feel to Ann Arbor—a big, fast and powerful bulldozing prospect, maybe something like former Auburn star Ronnie Brown. Capable of putting a Band-Aid on the 2012 running game blemishes, Green could immediately impact and rejuvenate Michigan’s ground attack within just a few weeks.
DeVeon Smith, a 4-star prepster, is another Rawls-like back. At 6’1” and 210 pounds, Smith could add a hint of Borges’ backfield at Auburn: Brown and Cadillac Williams. Put Rawls in that group, too.
Michigan stands to have an elite backfield in 2013.
Backup QB Still a Question
When and if Denard Robinson went down in 2012, the Wolverines had a game plan for the No. 2 starter role: Devin Gardner, a quarterback who dabbled at wide receiver prior to Robinson’s injury ulnar-nerve injury versus Nebraska.
Gardner didn’t fumble his chance when given the reins of the offense. Russell Bellomy, did, however.
Robinson is gone, and Gardner is the standalone first option under center for offensive coordinator Al Borges’ set.
Shane Morris, a 2013 recruit who once had a 5-star billing, can’t be redshirted, although Michigan would probably love to do so. The former Warren De La Salle High top gun has to get meaningful reps in the event that Gardner is placed on the sideline by the injury bug.
Brian Cleary, a redshirt sophomore-to-be, emerged as the No. 2 starter behind Gardner during spring scrimmages. Had Bellomy not suffered an ACL injury in spring, he’d be the guy—and Michigan would still have an issue.
Morris may not be the cure-all, but he’s certainly a viable option for second-fiddle status. The backup quarterback position is one that can be filled via 2013 recruiting, thus making it important not to look too far ahead at 2014 and 2015 just yet.
Some may choose to wait until Wilton Speight’s arrival to worry about this, though.
Secondary is Primary
Under Rich Rodriguez, Michigan had a comically tragic set of defensive backs working the depths of the field. Not to say that they weren’t talented, but the way Michigan was torched through the air for three years made it incredibly difficult to see any of the athlete’s upsides.
That being said, there was almost immediate turnaround under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who took a lowly unit and made it one of the Big Ten’s best; the Wolverines were No. 2 in the league in total defense (320 yards) and pass defense (169.5) in 2012.
With 4-star safety Dymonte Thomas headed to Ann Arbor, the Wolverines have a bonafide, 6’1”, 190-pound bruiser in center field. Receivers may want to think twice about going deep and down the middle with Thomas on call.
Ross Douglas, Jourdan Lewis and Delano Hill are each 4-star rated recruits and signify a changing of the guard in Michigan’s secondary. Add in Channing Stribling, and the Wolverines have yet another option to give Courtney Avery, Blake Countess and Jarrod Wilson a little help if needed.
The 2013 defensive backs, like they’re supposed to do, provide a few extra names on the depth chart—and that’s never a bad thing for a coach.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81