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Friday, January 18, 2013
Michigan looks to fix run game

By Tom VanHaaren

Michigan's run game in 2012 was a disappointment. As a result, the coaches have ramped up their efforts to right the ship immediately. The Wolverines are hoping to use the 2013 recruiting class to get the ground game going as the post-Denard Robinson era begins.

Michigan's rushing attack produced 2,389 yards last season, a number that doesn't sound terrible until you further dissect the details. Michigan's two quarterbacks, Robinson and Devin Gardner, accounted for 1,367 of those yards and 14 of the 27 rushing touchdowns.

Robinson led the way, averaging 7.2 yards per carry, while the running back trio of Fitzgerald Toussaint, Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith combined to rush for 918 yards, averaging only 4.1 yards per carry. That combined average would rank No. 80 in the country.

Without Robinson, Michigan is looking for help to transform the offense.

The only running backs Michigan landed in the 2012 class were Drake Johnson and Dennis Norfleet, both later in the recruiting process and both lower-rated prospects. Backs including Keith Marshall, Donovan Roberts, Wes Brown and Bri'onte Dunn were all targeted in 2012, but none picked the Wolverines.

The coaching staff seemed to be close with Dunn, as he was wavering in his commitment to Ohio State, but he ultimately decided to stick with the Buckeyes.

Derrick Green
Getting Derrick Green would be a huge coup for Michigan as it moves to a power-running attack.
That led Michigan to the 2013 class, which has been similarly up and down. The coaches went after big names including Ty Isaac, Jordan Wilkins, Keith Ford and a few others, but haven’t yet reeled in an ESPN 150 back.

Fortunately for Michigan fans, running back was made an emphasis early on in the process. Local running back Wyatt Shallman (Novi, Mich./Detroit Catholic Central) was offered early and made his commitment in February. Deveon Smith (Warren, Ohio/Howland) was also made a priority early on and he committed to Michigan in March.

Smith is a four-star prospect and gives Michigan only its third four-star running back commitment since the 2006 class, joining Justice Hayes and Carlos Brown. That number is staggering considering that Michigan has produced some outstanding running backs in the past.

Despite having those two backs committed, Michigan is very much in the hunt for four-star Derrick Green (Richmond, Va./Hermitage). The No. 5-ranked back has Michigan as his leader and will be announcing his decision on Jan. 26.

If the Wolverines were to land Green, he would become the highest-ranked running back to commit to Michigan since before the 2006 class. Green, ranked at No. 38 overall, would also be the highest-ranked running back commit for Michigan during the same period, which would be a huge boost to Michigan’s attempt to shore up the run game.

With the transition to a pro-style offense in the very near future, bigger, powerful running backs have been needed. The addition of Johnson in the 2012 class did add size, but at 6-foot, 209 pounds, Johnson is the only running back Michigan has on the roster that stands 6-feet tall.

If Green does in fact commit to Michigan, he, Smith and Shallman will be the three biggest backs on the roster the second they step foot on campus. Shallman is the biggest at 6-3, 250 pounds, but all three would be an excellent combo punch for Michigan with their size and power.

There is no guarantee that the running game woes will be cured by any of these backs, but the mere fact Michigan has focused on landing the right type of back is a big key. Adding Green to the class would build more competition at the position and would increase Michigan’s chances of once again having a top-level run game.