Michigan’s Running Back Battle: Production, Not Order of Names on Depth Chart, Matters Most

Posted on Posted in Michigan Football

As we head into the second week of Michigan football’s preparations for the 2014 season, things like the depth chart and how players are performing are already hot topics of discussion among the fan base.

Some things have been solidified, such as Devin Gardner pretty much locking down the quarterback spot. Other things have caused more confusion, such as the offensive line combination to start camp. But perhaps the biggest storyline comes from how Michigan’s rushing attack is coming along.

By all accounts, De’Veon Smith has entered camp as the number-one running back and to this point has the lead in that spot. Expected to come in right behind him is fellow sophomore Derrick Green, who was a five-star recruiting coming out of high school.

A bit of a wrinkle was added to that battle on Media Day on Sunday when head coach Brady Hoke stated in terms of who looks like the starting running back for now, Smith was the leader in the clubhouse, but that redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson was right on his heels and Green taking reps with the second team.

Almost instantly, that sent social media into an uproar, referring to Green as a bust and a disappointment to this point in his college career.

At first glance, it may appear that Green is behind, but I really do not believe that his spot on the “depth chart” for now is a product of him being far behind the top two guys.

I put depth chart in parenthesis because at this point of the year, what coaches put down on paper means next to nothing. Those in the know have said Green has come into camp in far better shape than last season and that he has performed nicely so far. For now, it looks like Smith and Johnson have just been a tad bit better.

People need to realize that when a player steps on campus, his personal accolades from high school no longer matter. As soon as you sign on the dotted line at the end of the recruiting process, you are just another player. Another piece to a puzzle much larger than yourself. Just because you are a five-star recruit or a high school All-American does not mean that you can just walk onto the field and expect a spot handed to you.

Michigan has done a pretty good job of giving the guys with experience the upper hand in terms of landing playing time since Hoke arrived in 2011. It’s the same reason that Jabrill Peppers is being kept strictly at nickel for now. These underclassmen have to come in and prove they belong on the field and clearly outplay the others.

Based on what film has shown, Smith is simply ahead of Green right now in terms of his skill set and what he has done thus far. Smith looked like a more decisive runner and was lighter on his feet than Green last season. The staff has been high on Johnson the last few seasons, even after his 2013 season was cut short because of an ACL injury.

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter if it’s Smith, Green, Johnson or perhaps even Ty Isaac if his hardship waiver is approved and he can play this year. The running backs as a group need to find a way to produce and give this offense a more balanced look. The running game has been on life support the last few seasons, salvaged only by big run plays from the quarterback position from Gardner and Denard Robinson before him.

One can argue this position group is the most talented on Michigan’s roster, and they will need help from efficient quarterback play and a much improved offensive line, but they have the guys to get it done.

What matters the most is that a running back donning a maize and blue jersey and a winged helmet brings this aspect of the Michigan offense back to what it is known for and what they want to do in Doug Nussmeier’s pro-style, power run system.

If the run game is effiecent and the wins follow, the names on the back of the jerseys will be an afterthought.

No more excuses. No more “wait until next year.” It’s time to get back to playing Michigan football.

Anthony Broome is the Managing Editor of The Big House Report. You can follow him on Twitter here. Also, be sure to check out TBHR on Twitter and “like” us on Facebook.

Derek Devine
Institutional voice of Alma College during the day, Michigan fanatic at night. Taking TBHR to the next level one post at a time.