Soon, spring practice begins for Michigan football, and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier can start implementing the changes to put the team on track to compete for the Big Ten title.
While the offensive line needs a major overhaul, and the quarterback battle will stretch into fall camp, with last year’s starter Devin Gardner still recovering from a foot injury, Michigan has solid options at running back.
When Nussmeier was hired by Brady Hoke, he had to do a crash course to familiarize himself with Michigan’s roster. But there was one player he already new very well—running back Derrick Green. Alabama had recruited Green, but he spurned the Crimson Tide to sign with Michigan. Now, Green will have every opportunity to be the focal point of Nussmeier’s running attack.
Michigan passed on offering a scholarship to a running back in its most recent recruiting class; another sign that Nussmeier was comfortable with the current backs on the roster. The larger challenge will be how he pieces together an offensive line from a position group plagued by injury and poor play—a group that lost its two most consistent players—tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield—to graduation.
Nussmeier acknowledged the problems up front on a signing day video on mgoblue.com last week. "The biggest thing where we have to start from, offensively, is that we're not going to go backwards.You look at the lost yardage plays in the rushing game, the sacks in the passing game, we've got to eliminate those.”
While the offensive line is being sorted out, Michigan will need a running back that has a combination of size and speed to make things happen if the blocking isn’t there—something the team lacked last season when the running game faltered with senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who seemed to wait far too long for running lanes to open up. For most of the season, the only constant running game was generated by quarterback Devin Gardner who was pounded by opposing defenses.
The 5’11”, 240 pound Green was the top rated running back in the country when he came out of high school and has the mix of speed and power to punch holes in opposing defenses. Green was hampered early last season with a leg injury, while struggling to make the transition from hyped prospect to game-day contributor. When he finally broke through late in the season, he showed flashes of why he was a top recruit.
The running game will be crucial to the success of Doug Nussmeier’s offense at Michigan. During his two seasons at Alabama, the Crimson Tide ranked in the top 20 nationally in rushing yards—last year, Michigan ranked 101st in the nation.
Nussmeier will need somebody—anybody—to carry the load on the ground next season, and Derrick Green is the leading candidate for the job if he can stay healthy and come into the season in top shape needed to be Michigan’s top option on the ground.
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.