This second piece to our Michigan football spring preview gives you a look at the running backs. With new offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and new running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley, this is one position that gives me high hopes of exciting performances. Both of these coaches, along with Jim Harbaugh, like a power running game. During the eleven years that Harbaugh and Drevno have worked together, almost every team has had a 1,000-yard rusher.
The 2014 season was supposed to be the year Michigan returned to the power running game, and it was going to come from a breakout year for running back Derrick Green. The Wolverines have only produced a 1,000-yard rusher once since 2007 and have lacked a go-to back since Mike Hart.
Green started the season looking like he was going to be that guy. Through the first six games he accumulated 471 yards and three touchdowns and seemed to be on his way to at least 900 yards for the season. Then a clavicle fracture during a game vs. Rutgers sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Next up was De’Veon Smith, a tough downhill runner who was now expected to carry the load. Outside of a 121-yard game against Northwestern, Smith failed to be the rusher Michigan was looking for. He lost the starting job to Drake Johnson. During the Nov. 1 game vs. Indiana, Johnson had a coming out party. He rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns and had a few exciting runs. He seemed to be the spark plug the Michigan offense had been searching for. Then more bad news came in the final game of the season as Johnson suffered an ACL tear. After scoring his second touchdown against the Buckeyes, he went down in pain and would not return. Once again, it was another season without a 1,000-yard rusher or an every-down back.
Ty Issac (transfer from USC who sat out last season)
Karan Higdon (a three-star incoming freshman)
Projected Depth Chart
|1st Team||Derrick Green||Jr.||5-foot-11, 234 lbs.|
|2nd Team||Ty Isaac||RS So.||6-foot-3, 240 lbs.|
|Backup||De’Veon Smith||Jr.||5-foot-11, 228 lbs.|
|Backup||Drake Johnson||RS Jr.||6-foot, 207 lbs.|
|Backup||Antonio Whitfield||Jr.||5-foot-4, 160 lbs.|
|Backup||Karan Hidgon||Fr.||5-foot-10, 190 lbs.|
Derrick Green is coming off an injury but has looked good in spring practice according to coach Wheatley. He is a powerful runner who has put on more muscle this year. Look for him to start the year being the main back. If he does not produce, there are guys chomping at the bit to take his spot. Ty Issac should be the next in line because of the lack of production from Smith. He will impress on the carries he does get early on.
De’Veon Smith could fall down the pecking order when Drake Johnson comes back from his injury. Johnson was a crowd favorite too last year during the final few games. It was a joy watching him turn negative plays into positive yards. He has the ability to always fall forward and take care of the football. If everyone stays healthy this season, Michigan will have a good stable of running backs. They could make coach Wheatley have a very hard decision putting together the depth chart. Coach Wheatley has told reporters he hopes someone emerges as the lead back but does not see anyone in the lead so far this spring.
Player to Watch: Ty Isaac
Issac sat out last year since he was a transfer from USC, and he is hungry to play. He has the size of a linebacker to go along with a running back’s speed. Coming out of high school, he was a five-star recruit who Michigan sought after. Now paired with a set of coaches who want a powerful back who can carry the load every down, Issac seems destined to be the man. Even though Green might start the season as the main back, look for Issac to take over as the starter within a couple of games. He has all the tools to be Michigan’s next 1,000-yard rusher. With his size, Issac can run defenders over or hit the outside and race past them. He has great vision and also is a good blocker.
Also look for Johnson when he returns from injury during the season. He is an exciting runner who possesses speed and the heart to break tackles.
Position Grade: B
Chad Finley is a contributor for The Big House Report. Follow him on Twitter @finfive1.