- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Detroit Lions reporter
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A year ago, Fitzgerald Toussaint was just a name -- a memorable one, to be sure -- but his name didn't carry much weight around Michigan. He was just a guy with potential who seemingly couldn't stay healthy.
He was someone Michigan liked, but also someone whose on-field vision was subpar. He was merely another player in the midst of a crowded running back competition.
Even midway through last season, Toussaint had not fully established himself, barely touching the ball in a loss to Michigan State. After that, though, something changed in him.
He started to focus. That vision offensive coordinator Al Borges criticized cleared up with more carries, and by the end of the season he was a 1,000-yard rusher. He had four 100-yard efforts in Michigan's final six games.
Which leads to this spring, where Michigan doesn't have a question at running back for the first time since Mike Hart graduated.
"Fitz is our tailback," Borges said. "If he isn't, I'm not very smart."
It also means his role this spring has changed. Instead of wanting every carry as a chance to prove himself, Toussaint has backed off. So have the coaches, sometimes choosing to sit the redshirt junior in favor of sophomore Thomas Rawls or redshirt freshman Justice Hayes to give them the experience Toussaint lacked a season ago.
It has also allowed Toussaint to do some coaching, working with the two younger backs to show them what he learned over the past season.
When Toussaint has carried it, though, he has been aggressive. He runs hard when he's in and has spent a good amount of time working on his blocking and receiving skills as he tries to refine more of his game.
"That's real heavy in this offense," Toussaint said. "You have to pick up pass protection. That's key."
Blocking and receiving, if Toussaint has improved as the coaches and Toussaint have said, will help keep him on the field even in passing situations. Last season, he was often taken out in certain situations in favor of Michael Shaw or Vincent Smith.
Don't be surprised if there are times Toussaint is off the field again this season -- but it won't be because of any deficiencies in his game.
"We're going to spell him a little bit, he isn't going to be in there every play," Borges said. "But the last five or six games you saw what our approach was and that is pretty much what it is going to stay until it isn't productive."
Consider, in his first six games of last season -- he didn't play against Notre Dame -- Toussaint averaged 10.3 carries and 55.5 yards a game. In the last six, he averaged 20.8 carries and 118 yards.
That kind of production and trust allowed Michigan to declare him its running back for next season, a role he craves. He is seeing all of that better now, with his vision now an asset instead of an issue.
"That's just coming from being more comfortable," Toussaint said. "Not trying to hold pressure on myself but being comfortable, laid back and doing my job."
A job that now is solely his.
Fitzgerald Toussaint became a force in the second half of last season and enters this season as Michigan's workhorse back.