Derrick Green’s steady creep is due for a jump into overdrive.
In 2013, he showed a few streaks that justified his lofty 4-star ranking (No. 8 RB) from 247Sports. Now a sophomore, the 6’0”, 230-pound former Hermitage High (Richmond, Va.) standout is expected to either lead or get out of the way.
That’s just how things are, and if Green is to be the next (great) Michigan running back, he must accelerate his pace or risk being passed by fellow sophomore DeVeon Smith, who also entered Ann Arbor with a 4-star grade (No. 15 RB).
While under Doug Nussmeier’s control, the Michigan offense has undergone a few subtle, but meaningful, adjustments. Since yanking the keys from Al Borges, Nussmeier has paraded a simpler style—one that worked well in the SEC and one that will work well in the Big Ten.
His reputation for crafting ideal pro-style attacks and developing blue chips into Saturday heroes speaks for itself.
Green, who was offered by Alabama (and Nussmeier), should benefit from the change. Borges’ calls didn’t seem to accentuate the strengths of his roster. Instead of giving the ball to one of four potential suitors, Borges stuck with senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, whose mighty struggle to reach the line of scrimmage was one of many thorns in the side of Team 134.
Nussmeier likes to keep productive, fresh legs on the field. When fresh, Green was productive; he should see the field plenty of times in the backfield this fall.
Here’s what to expect.
After a quick launch in Week 1, Green seemed destined for more as the schedule unfolded.
But that didn’t happen.
Apparently 11 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown vs. Central Michigan didn’t impress Brady Hoke’s staff enough to order more totes the next week. Green waited until Oct. 5 against Minnesota before getting double-digit attempts.
Michigan defeated the Gophers 42-13, and the frosh finished with 10 carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Yeah, the yards weren’t great, but scoring never hurts.
Green’s not one of those jet-like imports. He needs a little space—and perhaps a split second longer—before reaching full speed. In that regard, he’s more like an American muscle car.
The first couple test drives were fine. But the more Borges hit the gas, the more Green produced—and that was made clear by his late-season bursts vs. Northwestern (19 carries, 79 yards) and Ohio State (12 carries for 47 yards).
With his belts tightened and oil changed, Green’s been in the garage long enough. Look for Nussmeier to hop in the driver’s seat, turn up the radio and cruise with the sophomore all the way to the playoffs. That, in all likelihood, is the plan.
Michigan has a nice backfield. But it’s Green’s year until someone—such as Smith—says otherwise. Even if he’s not the “featured back,” he’ll have a prominent role in Nussmeier’s system.
In 2013, Michigan ran the ball 498 times, averaged 125.7 yards per game and finished with the No. 11 rushing offense in the league. Green had 83 of those carries for 270 yards.
Toussaint had 185 carries for 648 yards and 13 touchdowns. At the very least, Green could, and should, hit those numbers this fall.
When it comes to teaching Michigan running backs, there aren’t many—if any—better than coach Fred Jackson, who has more than 20 years of experience with the Wolverines.
As one of the most respected position coaches in the Big Ten, Jackson’s opinion matters.
Earlier this month, he said the following about Green during an interview with WTKA-Ann Arbor radio (via MLive.com’s Nick Baumgardner):
When you think about his speed, he could always run, but now you see flashes of that speed. I see a man who has more confidence because he's lighter. He's running with more conviction. He's running with more ability to make tight cuts.
Right now, because he lost that weight, he's going to make a tremendous difference for us this fall.
This past fall, in light of a Green-less backfield, complaints began to mount. He was either out of shape and/or lazy, or Michigan (Borges) hadn't a clue on how to showcase its ball-carrier.
Yeah, he was a few Twinkies over the limit. Who hasn't been there? But lazy?! Nope. He had to learn a few lessons before earning an endorsement from the staff, which had to get things straight before counting on a true freshman to carry the load.
Sounds like everyone finally got it.
As mentioned above, Smith is the other No. 1 back to follow this season. Honestly, Michigan has a good problem. There aren't many programs in the Big Ten that can match Team 135's potential Green-Smith punch.
As Smith improves, so will Green. Greatness pushes greatness, or at least that's how it should be.
Expect the first few weeks to be a test. If Green can carry over his late 2013 momentum into early 2014, he'll reach the top of the depth chart.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81