Michigan struggled to run the ball consistently during the 2013 campaign and will need to improve drastically to turn things around next season. Problems on the offensive line (nine players were rotated through the five starting positions) because of injuries and performance issues contributed to the problems in the running game. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, returning from a catastrophic leg injury that ended his 2012 season, also failed to regain top form.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges prefers to have one primary back, and with Toussaint’s graduation the competition will be on among the returning backs.
Derrick Green (5-11, 240, 2014 Eligibility: Sophomore)
2013 Stats: (83 carries for 270 yards, 3.3 yards-per-carry, 2 touchdowns)
Green then showed why he was such a highly touted recruit, running with authority and making holes with his bruising running style. Despite his late-season surge, Green was disappointed with his production and predicted that, “[He] and De'Veon are going to come back next year real strong and…get it done.”
2014 Outlook: Expect Green to Compete to be Primary Back
De’Veon Smith (5-11, 224, 2014 Eligibility: Sophomore)
2013 Stats: (26 carries 117 yards, 4.5 yards-per-carry)
Smith was mired on the depth chart but surged at the end of season to run with both power and elusiveness. Smith showed tantalizing glimpses of speed that could set him apart from the rest of the running backs next season.
2014 Outlook: Expect Smith and Green to Compete to be Primary Back
Justice Hayes (5-10, 192, 2014 Eligibility: Junior)
2013 Stats: (2 carries 6 yards, 3.0 yards-per-carry)
Hayes played in 11 games but wasn’t featured in the offense until the bowl game, where he earned playing time by shining in practice. Hayes seems to be back of choice when it comes to getting passes from the backfield.
2014 Outlook: Hayes will need to shine in spring and fall practice to move past Green and Smith. He’ll also need to work on his blocking.
Thomas Rawls (5-10, 217, 2014 Eligibility: Senior)
2013 Stats: (3 carries 12 yards, 4.0 yards-per-carry, 1 touchdown)
Rawls has been missing in action. As a senior, he’ll get a look in spring practice and probably a chance in the early-season games next season.
2014 Outlook: He’ll need to produce big time to move up the depth chart.
Drake Johnson (6-0, 213, 2014 Eligibility: Sophomore)
2013 Stats: (2 carries 9 yards, 4.5 yards-per-carry)
Johnson was injured in the third quarter of Michigan’s first game of the season with an ACL injury. He may be eligible for a medical redshirt since he was injured so early in the season. He had moved up the depth chart before his injury and was listed as Toussaint’s backup.
2014 Outlook: Johnson’s status will depend on when he returns injury.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.
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