In the long and rich tradition of Michigan football, most of the teams featured a down hill and physical running game. Since 2011 when Fitz Toussaint ran for more than 1,000 yards, there has not been a very dominant running back. The talent at that position is trending in the right direction for Michigan. The offense will be the work in progress featuring a newer offensive line, quarterback and running backs hungry to create the physical game Michigan fans are used to seeing.
We know the returning senior and leading running back is De’Veon Smith. Coach Wheatley commented further on this last month and he could see 20-25 carries per game. Last season Smith had 753 yards over 180 carries and six touchdowns. His impressive performance in the 2016 Citrus Bowl featured 25 carries for 109 yards and two touchdowns. If he stays healthy over the season and gets comfortable behind this offensive line, he can have a huge year.
The next spot is one that several will fight for, but see Drake Johnson could very well be that guy having a great spring so far. The fifth year senior had an impressive 2014 season with 361 yards with 60 carries and four touchdowns. His last game at Ohio State he had 74 yards with 15 carries and two touchdowns. He had his second ACL tear of his Michigan career during that game to end the season. Harbaugh called Johnson “a gifted healer” and “one of my favorite guys.” His 2015 season started slow coming back off the injury appearing in 12 games making one start. The 2016 Citrus Bowl showed he is getting back on track with 58 yards with six carries and a receiving touchdown. He will be one to watch out for and if he gets in the second spot behind Smith, this combo may be dangerous.
The other that will be one to watch is USC transfer, Ty Isaac. He is a 6-foot-3, 228 pounds and down 12 pounds from last year. His hamstring injury that hindered his spring practice transfered into the fall featuring only a 76-yard run against UNLV then not getting a carry in the last six games. Isaac has had a great spring so far and a spring game performance featuring 10 carries and 79 yards. He ended the season with only 20 carries, 205 yards and one touchdown. He has not missed a minute of spring practice and is healthy showing he has the speed to take the ball to the outside and the size to push it inside.
With Smith as the clear-cut starting running back, there’s an opportunity for one of these to break out and create a true dual threat making this offense impressive and physical on this side of the ball.