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Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Hoke takes Michigan back to the future

By Tom VanHaaren

There is no DeLorean in this story, but Michigan coach Brady Hoke is attempting to take his football team back to the future, in a sense.

Hoke wants to create his own identity, but through recruiting he and his staff are attempting to recreate some of the old Michigan ways on the field. With big, burly offensive linemen, bruising running backs, tall wide receivers and defensive linemen who don’t quit, Hoke also is hoping to replicate the winning ways of old.

The most glaring sign of Michigan’s intentions in the 2013 class has to be the offensive line haul. The Wolverines took six offensive linemen who average out to be 6-foot-5, 291 pounds. All mauling, tough-nosed linemen who will help Michigan’s transition into a pro-style offense.

The line recruiting also will help with regards to the running game, something that has been a big concern over the last seasons. It’s a staple to any run game, having good line play, something former Michigan running back Tim Biakabatuka believes still holds true.

“If you look at Michigan back then, it was big offensive linemen and zone blocking,” he said. “With a running back that has size and speed to make a big play. Michigan relied heavily on the run game.”

The help for the future will likely come from running backs Derrick Green (Richmond, Va./Hermitage), Deveon Smith (Warren, Ohio/Howland) and Wyatt Shallman (Novi, Mich./Detroit Catholic Central).

Derrick Green
Derrick Green's arrival signals a return to power football for the Wolverines.
The Wolverines have gone back to the bigger, bruising running backs that they used to see success with as all three backs weigh more than 200 pounds. The average size for running backs committed under former head coach Rich Rodriguez was 5-foot-10, 189 pounds where that number has bounded up to 6-foot, 220 pounds under Hoke.

That is a big deal, according to Biakabatuka, who says it’s vital to have success on the ground going forward.

“If a team can control the ball and control the clock then you become multidimensional,” he said. “You’re starting to see some of the spread in the NFL, but you look at Alabama who won the national championship and they have a traditional back. You look at the Baltimore Ravens and they won the Super Bowl with the same mentality.”

Biakabatuka was 6-foot-1, 218 pounds himself, which is very similar to 2013 commits Green and Smith.

This class is potentially a look into the future of how Michigan hopes to stock up at each position. When Biakabatuka was thinking about picking Michigan out of high school, he knew there would always be top backs in front of him. It fueled him rather than deterring him.

“When I was on a trip to Michigan my host told me they had five All-American running backs and if he was in my shoes he wouldn’t pick Michigan,” he said. “I took it personally so I went there anyway. The competition will be there no matter where you go. You just have to get your shot.”

The biggest changes will likely come on offense, although the coaching staff would like to get bigger and faster at all positions.

Since the passing game will be featured more going forward, it’s no surprise that Hoke has gone after big receivers and tight ends. The average size for receivers under Hoke is 2 inches taller and 12 pounds heavier than Rodriguez recruited to Michigan. In fact, Hoke is yet to sign a receiver under 6-2.

With five receivers in 2012 and 2013, Michigan should have some good, big options on the outside going forward. The offense also will get a boost from the type of tight end Michigan has been recruiting.

Had it not been for Kevin Koger, the tight end position might not have even been utilized under Rich Rodriguez, but Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges are making it a priority.

Freshman tight end Devin Funchess saw success early on and now will get some help with the addition of Jake Butt as an early enrollee. The tight end position will be a big focus, something that former Michigan tight end Bennie Joppru says can help in game planning against any defense.

“It makes a defense decide what they’re going to do. If they play a base defense then we’ll throw the ball,” he said. “If they run a nickel then we’ll run it. I’m excited to see the progression, it’s always nice to see those guys gaining some attention to keep the tradition alive.”

Whether it’s at tight end, wide receiver or running back, Brady Hoke is hoping to keep Michigan’s tradition of winning alive. By adding the 2013 prospects to this team, Hoke and his staff are moving towards the future of the program, but back to what Michigan used to be.