One of the biggest questions about Michigan football has been answered.
"I'm going to be the starting running back Aug. 31," said Fitz Toussaint, via MLive.com’s Nick Baumgardner.
As the senior of the Wolverines’ backfield, Toussaint is expected to set the standard for the underclassmen. In 2011, the former 4-star prep, per Rivals, rushed for 1,041 yards, seventh most in the Big Ten—and he was just getting started, or so it seemed.
On Nov. 17, the old Toussaint seemed poised to emerge. He had three carries for 31 yards—easily his quickest start of the year—prior to breaking his left leg in the 42-17 rout of Iowa. Bittersweet, the circumstances were anything but ideal for a junior with something to prove.
All of that energy…seemingly wasted.
Already questioned due to lack of production—130 carries, 514 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games—Toussaint’s progress was further derailed by that bad break.
After an offseason of recovery, Toussaint, ever confident of his return throughout, has a career’s worth of hurdles to clear in one fall.
Failure isn’t an option during his final year at Michigan.
Can He Handle the Pressure?
Michigan has proof of Toussaint’s ability to run: 2011.
However, in 2012, he didn’t attack with the same level of ferocity. The offensive line endured transition with the loss of Rimington-winning center David Molk, but tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield should have been enough for Toussaint to succeed.
For some reason, they weren't. That has to change, because the offensive line—although touting three new starters—could be a silent strength for the offense this year.
Lewan is an All-American and sure NFL first-round pick. He's an ideal blocker for anyone to run behind. Schofield, although not at Lewan’s level of achievement, is a solid option to follow on the right side.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges has freshmen Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden plugged in at the guard spots, and sophomore Jack Miller is slated to start at center. Talent won’t be an issue in the middle, as they’re each capable starters.
But their lack of experience could be a problem. That’s when Toussaint will need to rely on his background.
A senior who’s experienced a fair amount of change, Toussaint has to adapt, trust his veteran tackles and embrace the role of being the Wolverines’ No. 1 ball-carrier.
Right around this time last year, Borges labored over choosing the starter: Would it be Toussaint or someone else?
By answering that question this year, Toussaint made his intentions clear. He’s claimed the top job, and now it’s time for him to perform the necessary duties.
Next in Line
Alone, the 2012 and 2013 classes have enough talent in the backfield to keep Michigan competitive on the ground for at least two or three years. Redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson showed promise during the offseason, and star freshman Derrick Green is set to debut.
As one of 2013’s most-heralded recruits, Green, a 6’0”, 220-pound speedster, is widely considered the heir to Toussaint’s position. If Toussaint truly wants to be the No. 1, he’ll have to outdo one of the most highly touted recruits in recent school history.
Competition for playing time in the backfield will be fierce. Thomas Rawls, a junior, figures to get carries. Justice Hayes, also a junior, could flourish in Borges’ pro-style spread offense as a gadget back. Freshman De’Veon Smith should get in-game opportunities, too.
Toussaint’s recovery is nothing short of impressive. For a break so gruesome, it’s a wonder that he’s walking properly just eight months later, forget having enough mobility to play football at a high level.
"Didn't know how fast I'd be doing stuff in spring ball," Toussaint said in March to ESPN Wolverine Nation writer Michael Rothstein. "Either way you look at it, I'm still ahead of schedule."
Ahead of schedule but out of time, Toussaint must approach each carry like it’s his last. After all, it well could be.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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