Michigan Football Spring Preview: Running Backs

The most dominant Michigan football teams over the years as the winningest program featured a smash mouth, down hill, running game. This was the mentality of legendary coach Bo Schembechler and everyone after him, but we have not seen it over the past few years.

There have been a few recent players that showed signs of growth and development, but no one has become a standout running back in the Big Ten Conference or national level. The last time a Michigan running back reached 1,000 yards on the ground in a season was Fitzgerald Toussaint back in 2011 with 1,041.

One that has earned playing time since his freshman year is senior De’Veon Smith. He is coming off two seasons as the teams leading rusher, 519 yards in 2014 and 753 in 2015. Smith had five games over the last two years with over 100 yards with the most recent against the Florida Gators in the 2016 Citrus Bowl with 111 yards and 25 carries. Consistency is the goal and he knows that with several who are competing for the spot this fall. His career 4.42 average yards per carry is effective, but he wants to improve on this and be a game changer this upcoming season as a leader on the team under Jim Harbaugh and Offensive Coordinator Tim Drevno.

The 2016 top five recruiting class featured the No. 1 overall running back, Kareem Walker. The once Ohio State commit, Walker is an early enrollee and was in Florida last week to start his college career. His early development will be something to watch, since under the past coaching staff that worked with Derrick Green did not go as planned. He will work towards being a backup and get playing time as a freshman, but fans should be excited about his future.

Drake Johnson is coming back as a fifth year senior averaging 5.52 yards per carry with two touchdowns through the air last year. He will be a definite threat for defenses if used for short gains and also home run plays.

Ty Isaac is the USC transfer that played in seven games last season and averaged 6.8 yards per carry. He has become more comfortable with this program and coaching staff that will surely make him a contender throughout the year.

Don’t be surprised if we see Jabrill Peppers used again with this offense, who has mostly been on the defensive side and special teams. He was used on offense in several games rushing 18 times last season. This coaching staff is not afraid to be creative with how and when he is used on both sides of the ball.

Others:

Kingston Davis (Fr.)

Karan Higdon (So.)

Chris Evans (Fr.)

With a highly ranked defense returning, the key pieces to this offense will be evaluated leading up to the first game. Michigan fans have very high expectations the year for this team, wanting desperately to compete for the Big Ten Conference, beat their biggest rivals, and earn a spot in the college football playoff.

David Noe