BTN was in Ann Arbor for practice yesterday, and they had a lot of commentary regarding our beloved Wolverines. Most of the conversation was upbeat, several times the analysts noted the marked changes in culture. Gerry DiNardo said "This doesn't look like the same team as a year ago," again noting the cultural change.
Essentially all were in agreement that the offensive transition has been completed, the offensive line has significantly improved and all three quarterbacks are viable options. One negative was the lack of depth on defense, and that is certainly a valid argument although not a certainty one way or another.
The one thing that stood out the most was a relatively neutral observation by Gerry DiNardo that "Michigan doesn't have a dominant running back" and "there is no Steve Slaton on this team." Although most experts agree there are a handful of good backs at Michigan, there is still this lingering question of a dominant running back needing to emerge.
Michigan has several options and they all bring key strengths and weaknesses to the table.
Brandon Minor is the odds on favorite to start at this point. Minor is a strong runner and a good blocker. His biggest assets are his physical running style and his ability to follow blocks with good vision and decisiveness. If you had to present any knock on Minor it would be that he might not be the ideal feature back in this type of spread offense, lacking the burst and change of direction skills of a Steve Slaton.
While Minor is back 1A , Carlos Brown might very well be 1B. He is similar to Minor in the sense that he has a nice combination of size and speed. Where Brown excels is hitting the holes a bit quicker than Minor, and also being more of a home-run threat (in theory), the problem with Brown (besides health) is that he doesn't seem to consistently see his opportunities as well a guy like Minor. If he stays healthy he could be our best threat though.
After these gentleman we have Michael Shaw. Shaw is a guy who often gets overlooked with all these other guys around him, but make no mistake about his potential as a change of pace in the spread. Michael Shaw is a track star, and show his ability to break off long runs in 2008 despite suffering from a sports hernia. Shaw doesn't have the size or composition to be a workhorse, but definitely provides a threat to score at any moment.
Kevin Grady is another guy who has kind of fell by the wayside so to speak. When he arrived on campus, Grady was a very highly touted back. Kevin came in with 5 star expectations, and delivered decent results when called on as a true freshman, however an ACL injury and talented depth chart have hurt his stock. If Grady can get it together he can still be a very effective short yardage back.
Last but not least we have Vincent Smith. Smith has been impressing coaches and players alike with his quickness, speed, agility and elusiveness. He is only 5'6" and 170 lbs. but Smith packs a pop as well. Smith may be the best running back on the roster since Mike Hart graduated, at least in terms of potential. I wouldn't compare him to Slaton by any means as he probably compares more favorably to Jacquizz Rodgers of Oregon State.
Michigan may or may not have a running back as good as Steve Slaton 2007, but keep in mind that Slaton had to earn his reputation just like anyone else. Fall camp 2005, nobody at West Virginia was saying 'this guy is going to be unstoppable.' In fact, Slaton didn't become the feature back until mid-season of 2005. We really can't be too sure what we have until we play the games, but we know we appear to have serious options working hard right now!
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