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Michigan's Minor ready for major role

3/23/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Brandon Minor gets it.

And after a season where Michigan looked lost trying to execute the zone reads, misdirections and bubble screens in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, getting it is a major step. The quarterback position will always be paramount for Rodriguez, but the running backs must make this offense go.

"We've got to be the engine of this offense, especially because we're being keyed on a lot," Minor said after Saturday's practice in Ann Arbor. "We're the main part of our offense. If we're doing good, that makes every other position in the offense easier. If we're doing good in the running game, it opens up the pass. If we do better on our fakes, the linemen are able to block."

As for those questionable quarterbacks?

"Yeah, I'll protect them, too," Minor said with a laugh.

Minor overcame shoulder and wrist injuries to emerge as Michigan's top back down the stretch last season. He averaged 89.4 rush yards in the Wolverines' final five games, highlighted by a 117-yard effort against Penn State, which led the Big Ten and was eighth nationally in rush defense (93.2 ypg). He also exploded for 155 rush yards and three touchdowns against Purdue.

The senior leads a group of running backs -- Michael Shaw, Carlos Brown, Kevin Grady -- who have gone through a year in Rodriguez's system. Running back and offensive line are the two most experienced units on the team, and Rodriguez expects fewer growing pains from those players.

"I want the pressure to be on me," Minor said.

Minor essentially went through last season with one arm.

He injured in right wrist in practice last spring and underwent surgery. Then he banged up his right shoulder during preseason camp. The pain never went away, but Minor got better at handling it.

"My shoulder was killing me, but I wasn't really telling them it was hurting," Minor said. "They were like, 'You sure you can go?' I was like, 'Yeah,' even though I was still banged up.

"I was just going through it. It got to a point where I couldn't really feel it anymore."

The pain has since subsided, and Minor considers himself at full strength for the spring. The 6-1, 216-pound senior from Richmond, Va., wants to take on a greater leadership role this fall alongside defensive end Brandon Graham, linebacker Obi Ezeh and others.

He became more vocal down the stretch in 2008, even as the losses piled up and Michigan reached historic lows.

After the Wolverines suffered their school-record ninth loss at Ohio State and looked non-competitive for most of the game, Minor said: "I'm going to prepare myself so that this doesn't happen again. I'm going to bust my tail and hope that others follow. I promise it won't be like this next year."

The sorry season tested Minor, who always brings a positive attitude to football but struggled to stay upbeat.

"It was tempting, you think about not finishing through," he said. "But I'm just not the type of person to give up, no matter how it went. It's still a game. I'm always pumped up for football, and I try to let that rub off on some of our players."