Michigan Wolverines: Bri'onte Dunn

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 26, 2014
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Spring practice is off and running in the Big Ten, as Michigan took the field Tuesday and Northwestern followed on Wednesday. We're taking snapshots of where each team stands at each position group.

We've already discussed the quarterbacks -- and will have much more on the way -- so the series begins with the running backs.

Illinois: The Illini are in a bit better shape here than they were the past two springs, as veterans Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young both return. Ferguson averaged 5.5 yards per carry and added 50 receptions for 535 yards as the primary playmaker for Illinois' revamped offense. Young added 376 yards on 93 carries. The Illini are looking for others behind the top two, and Dami Ayoola is back with the team after being dismissed in September for a rules violation.

Indiana: Tevin Coleman quietly put together a superb sophomore season and leads the Hoosiers' running backs in 2014. Coleman provides big-play ability after averaging 7.3 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns on only 131 attempts in 2013. Indiana loses Stephen Houston but brings back veteran D'Angelo Roberts, who will play behind Coleman. Younger players such as sophomore Laray Smith could get a look here.

Iowa: Not only did the Hawkeyes toss AIRBHG to the side and get through the season without any major injurie, but they bring back everyone for 2014. Senior Mark Weisman leads the contingent after rushing for 975 yards and eight touchdowns last fall. Jordan Canzeri came on strong late in the season and is showing no effects from his ACL tear in 2012. Veteran Damon Bullock also returns to the mix, and Iowa has talented younger backs such as LeShun Daniels Jr. at its disposal. Good situation here.

Maryland: The Terrapins wide receivers tend to get more attention, but the team also returns its top three running backs from 2013 in Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii. Maryland also regains the services of Wes Brown, who finished second on the team in rushing as a freshman in 2012 before being suspended for all of last season. Joe Riddle is back in the fold as well. The group brings different strengths, from power (Brown) to speed (Veii) to a mixture of both (Ross, Reid).

Michigan: Sophomore Derrick Green enters the spring as the frontrunner to be Michigan's lead back, although coach Brady Hoke wants to ramp up competition everywhere. The Wolverines struggled to consistently run between the tackles, but the 240-pound Green could change things. Hoke also is excited about another sophomore, De'Veon Smith. Michigan moved Ross Douglas from cornerback to running back, and Justice Hayes and Wyatt Shallman also are in the mix. "We've got more depth," Hoke said.

Michigan State: Things look much more promising than they did last spring, when the Spartans ended the session with a linebacker (Riley Bullough) as their top back. Jeremy Langford emerged as a very solid option during the season, rushing for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's back as the clear-cut starter, and Nick Hill also returns. It will be interesting to see if Gerald Holmes makes a push, or whether Delton Williams remains on offense.

Minnesota: Here's another team that finds itself in very good shape at running back entering the spring. David Cobb leads the group after rushing for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. Veterans Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr. are still around, and highly touted redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards will take the field after missing last fall because of knee and ankle injuries. Perhaps the best news will come in the summer as decorated recruit Jeff Jones arrives.

Nebraska: Notice a theme here? Nebraska is yet another Big Ten squad that can feel very good about its running backs entering the spring. Ameer Abdullah elected to bypass the NFL draft for one final season at Nebraska, where he led the Big Ten with 1,690 yards on 281 carries as a junior. Abdullah will contend for national awards in the fall. Imani Cross, who rushed for 10 touchdowns last year, is one of the nation's top backups. Terrell Newby and others add depth behind the top two.

Northwestern: Top back Venric Mark (ankle) will miss spring practice following surgery, and reserve Stephen Buckley (knee) also is rehabbing, but Northwestern has no reason to panic. Treyvon Green, who filled in well for Mark last season with 736 rushing yards, will get much of the work. Warren Long also is in the mix after appearing in seven games as a true freshman. Northwestern also loaded up at running back in recruiting to solidify the position for years to come.

Ohio State: This will be a position to watch in the spring as Ohio State must replace Carlos Hyde, who was nearly unstoppable during Big Ten play last fall. Veteran Jordan Hall also departs, and Rod Smith will be the veteran of the group despite only 83 career carries. The Buckeyes have some talented young backs, from Dontre Wilson, who saw significant playing time last fall, to Bri'onte Dunn, Ezekiel Elliott and Warren Ball. Keep an eye on Elliott, who averaged 8.7 yards per carry in limited work last season but could emerge this spring.

Penn State: If it feels like Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton have been competing for carries forever at Penn State, it's because they have. Zwinak and Belton have been part of Penn State's running back rotation for the past two seasons and enter another competition this spring with talented sophomore Akeel Lynch, who rushed for 358 yards on only 60 carries last season. It will be interesting to see how much Lynch can push Zwinak and Belton in the team's first spring under a new coaching staff. Penn State has depth issues at several positions, but running back isn't one of them.

Purdue: The Boilers finished 122nd nationally in rushing offense last season, so the fact all of their running backs return might not spark mass celebration. Senior Akeem Hunt leads the group after recording 123 of the team's 319 rushing attempts in 2013. Other veteransBrandon Cottom and Raheem Mostert also are back, along with younger ball-carries such as Dayln Dawkins and three backs -- Keyante Green, David Yancey and Keith Byars II -- who redshirted last fall and could have much bigger roles.

Rutgers: Here's yet another team that returns basically its entire stable of running backs for spring ball. Paul James is the name to watch, as he rushed for 573 yards in the first four games last season before suffering a leg injury. James' health is a concern for Rutgers, which could also turn to Justin Goodwin, who showed some flashes following James' injury. Savon Huggins, who entered last season as the starter before losing ground, is in the mix as he looks to re-establish himself on the depth chart.

Wisconsin: How many teams can lose a 1,400-yard rusher and still claim to have the best running back group in the Big Ten? James White is gone, but Wisconsin remains in very good shape in the backfield. Melvin Gordon bypassed the NFL draft for another year in Madison after rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 206 carries. Gordon should move into more of a featured role beginning this spring, although he'll be pushed by Corey Clement, who had 547 yards and seven touchdowns on only 67 carries. Jeff Lewis provides another option behind the top two.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Training camp hasn't even started yet. After that grueling month, there's still almost an entire season to be played before "The Game" that matters most.

But it's never too early to set the table for the feud between Ohio State and Michigan, and at BuckeyeNation and WolverineNation, we're doing it all week.

We looked back on Monday at some heroes and villains on both sides of the rivalry. Today we're looking ahead at the strengths and weaknesses that could decide the latest edition in the storied series, which is just more than four short months away.

STRENGTHS

Ground and pound:

Carlos Hyde
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Carlos Hyde is poised for a big senior season.
The Ohio State rushing attack was potent enough a year ago, but it's only added more experience and weapons to the mix now. By November, it might be almost impossible to slow down the Buckeyes on the ground as they incorporate the new pieces to the attack and potentially get more support from the passing game. Braxton Miller is obviously a threat to score from anywhere on the field, and if Carlos Hyde makes the kind of improvement he's targeted in terms of making defenders miss at the second level, that one-two combination will continue to rank among the best in the country, particularly with four seniors back on the offensive line.

But it might be the added dimension of a healthy Jordan Hall or a true freshman such as Dontre Wilson or Jalin Marshall at the hybrid, Pivot position that gives opponents even more fits. Or maybe it's a backfield that can be loaded up with as many as three talented rushers, rolling out Rod Smith or Bri'onte Dunn in a diamond formation with Hyde and Miller. Either way, the Buckeyes have the personnel to give Michigan a workout in the front seven.

Air patrol:

The expectations are growing for Michigan's passing attack now that Devin Gardner has the position all to himself, and he'll have plenty of time to develop and find a rhythm before meeting up with the Buckeyes. But there might be no stiffer test in the country than the one Ohio State can present a quarterback thanks to its overflowing talent and veteran savvy in the secondary. Cornerback Bradley Roby and safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett would make life difficult on their own, but the Buckeyes can complement that with another senior safety in reserve in Corey "Pittsburgh"' Brown, a junior cornerback looking to make a name for himself in Doran Grant and a class of incoming defensive backs that represented perhaps the best signing day haul in the nation.

The Buckeyes plan to get as many of those guys involved as possible this season, which could make the secondary even more fearsome by the time Gardner gets a crack at them.

WEAKNESSES

Middle ground:

The fresh faces are almost everywhere in the front seven, but heading to training camp, there's not all that much uncertainty about who will be filling which shoes left behind by the defenders who helped the Buckeyes go unbeaten last fall. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are poised for breakouts at end and Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry appear ready to lend a hand next to Ryan Shazier at linebacker, but there are two critical spots on the inside of the line that bear monitoring as Ohio State prepares to stop opposing rushing attacks. Michael Bennett is close to a lock for one role, but there could be a heated competition for reps next to him to complete the rotation. Tommy Schutt battled injuries throughout spring practice, but he has the ability to be a future star. Joel Hale is a grinder and respected leader, and the junior could be an intriguing option as well. And if big Chris Carter can manage his weight, his massive frame clearly could fill up some rushing lanes.

By November, the Buckeyes figure to have long ago answered those questions up front and should have also built up plenty of experience. But that will be at the top of the priority list as Ohio State chases a Big Ten title -- and keeps an eye on its rival.

Kicking it:

More often than not, the Buckeyes had the edge over opponents in the third phase. But considering how much value Urban Meyer places on special teams and how much production he expects, Ohio State wasn't all that close to giving him what he wanted a year ago. Kicker Drew Basil wasn't used all that much, aside from the season-ending win over Michigan, but among his 11 attempts last season were a pair of missed field goals from less than 39 yards that didn't exactly inspire confidence. The Buckeyes will be breaking in a new punter as well, and winning the field position battle is as important under Meyer as it has always been under previous regimes at Ohio State -- putting pressure on some young contributors to make plays in kickoff and punt coverage.

Philly Brown took a couple punts back for touchdowns last year and the "Freak Show" punt block unit made itself a nuisance a few times, but Meyer and newly-promoted special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs keep the bar pretty high in that area of the game. And in tightly contested rivalries, it can make all the difference.

State of the rivalry: Running backs 

February, 19, 2013
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The writers at WolverineNation and BuckeyeNation put their heads together to break down the rivals' 2013 classes. They'll give readers a position-by-position look at who coaches Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer brought in and, ultimately, which class edged out the other. It's too early to say what will happen through the next few seasons, and we won't make any promises except that Hoke and Meyer are going to put talent on the field.

Michigan looks to fix run game 

January, 18, 2013
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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.


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RB Deveon Smith update 

March, 12, 2012
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Dwaine Smith lives in Columbus, Ohio, not too far from a very famous horseshoe, smack dab in the middle of scarlet and gray Buckeye country.

But he has one plea for his son, Deveon Smith, a 2013 running back who’s starting to pick up interest from colleges across the country.

Please don’t go to Ohio State.

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WolverineNation Roundtable 

February, 9, 2012
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1. Which special teams player do you think will help the most in the Wolverines' return game?

Michael Rothstein: Someone who isn't even on campus yet -- Dennis Norfleet (Detroit/Martin Luther King). Michigan really started to show interest in him once Darryl Stonum was dismissed from the team -- and Stonum was slated to be the Wolverines' top returner next season. So if Norfleet can come on campus and show the same speed and elusiveness he did in high school, he could end up being Michigan's quickest, most unexpected, contributor on special teams in 2012.

Tom VanHaaren: I think Jeremy Gallon probably helps out the most, but it really seems like new signee Norfleet can bring a lot of speed on special teams. If he can bulk up a little bit and keep that speed then I think he has a chance to be electric back there.

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The Weekly Update at WolverineNation is a sneak peak inside Michigan recruiting.

As with everything we do here, we ask that this information stays on The Den Forum.

This information is for WolverineNation subscribers only.

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The Weekly Update at WolverineNation is a sneak peak inside Michigan recruiting.

As with everything we do here, we ask that this information stays on The Den Forum.

This information is for WolverineNation subscribers only.

Subscribers found to be passing this information to other sites or by email will be banned from the forum. The reason why it is posted on the forum is because it is the only way to ensure that the info is exclusive to WolverineNation. This will only work if everyone helps make it work.

On to the update…. TIGHT ENDS

As you remember, former Michigan commit Pharaoh Brown decided to take a visit to Oregon, which is why he is now a former commit. The coaching staff doesn’t allow visits from committed players, so they are now looking to replace that spot.

Towards the end of his commitment, Brown was asked if he would be willing to play tight end. It now seems as though the coaching staff would like to fill that spot with another tight end.

The coaches were recruiting Taylor McNamara (San Diego/Westview), and tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno was on an in-home visit with McNamara a week ago. However, his recruitment changed and McNamara is no longer considering Michigan.

He wanted to graduate early and wouldn’t be able to do so with Michigan, so he dropped the Wolverines.

That decision probably had something to do with why the coaching staff recently offered tight end Sam Grant (Lakewood, Ohio/St. Edward). A teammate of current Michigan commit Kyle Kalis, Grant is currently committed to Boston College.

Kalis tells me, however, that Grant is likely going to take an official visit to Michigan this weekend with Kalis.

With his teammate on board, Michigan might be able to convince the 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end to flip his decision like they did with Kalis.

Michigan coaches also dropped in on recent Penn State decommit J.P. Holtz (Pittsburgh/Shaler), whom I mentioned in last week’s Update.

DEANTHONY ARNETT

I have mentioned before that there could be a chance current Tennessee wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett will decide to transfer from the Vols’ program.

Charlie Baggett was one of the main reasons Arnett chose Tennessee, and now that the wide receivers coach has left the program it has changed a lot for Arnett.

Michigan was heavily involved with his recruitment, and one of the big hangups for Arnett was the spread offense that Rich Rodriguez ran. That problem no longer exists now that Brady Hoke has entered the picture and wants to run a pro-style offense.

The numbers, however, are now going to come into play for his recruitment. Will Michigan will have a scholarship available and can itfit Arnett on the roster?

If the coaches can make room then there is definite interest from Arnett, and interest from the Wolverines.

YURI WRIGHT

As I wrote in my blog post, Yuri Wright (Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco Prep) has Michigan in his top list of schools. He has maintained that Michigan is one of his favorite schools, and that he would like to visit Ann Arbor.

That visit sounds like it finally might come to fruition as Wright told me he would like to schedule his official visit to Michigan, and it will likely be his third official after Colorado and Notre Dame.

Michigan has a real opportunity to give Wright a lot of personal attention. He’ll also most likely get a chance to check out a practice session as Michigan prepares for the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

This visit will probably determine if Michigan makes it in his next top list, so it will be a big deal to see how he feels after the visit happens.

JEHU CHESSON

Michigan coach Jeff Hecklinski was recently out to see wide receiver Jehu Chesson (Chesterfield, Mo./Ladue Horton Watkins). As I wrote in my update Chesson is down to Michigan, Northwestern and Iowa.

What most people don’t know is that Chesson is being very methodical in his recruitment. He has a spreadsheet listing the pro’s and con’s of each school, and will likely decide by weighing all of the lists side by side.

I believe that Michigan and Northwestern currently have an edge over Iowa, but he is visiting Iowa on the 16th. He has lined up the schools side by side so far, and Michigan might have the slight edge over the other two. This last visit to Iowa will be very important in his decision. Nothing is set in stone yet, so we’ll see how that visit plays out.

EXTRA AND LINKS

  • Running back Bri’onte Dunn (Canton, Ohio/Glenoak) is visiting Ohio State this weekend. His father told me that Dunn might still visit Michigan next weekend. I have a feeling how the Ohio State visit goes will determine a lot of that. Dunn is still getting an in-home visit from Brady Hoke today.
  • There have been quite a few questions about wide receiver Stefon Diggs (Olney, Md./Good Counsel). The Michigan coaches did try to visit Diggs, but he was on another visit. As of right now it is unlikely he'll sign with Michigan. If he decides to visit then there might be a chance, but I wouldn't count on it.

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Ohio State running back commit Bri'onte Dunn (Canton, Ohio/Glenoak) was in Ann Arbor the past two weekends as Michigan took on Nebraska and Ohio State. The most recent game against the Buckeyes was obviously the more important as Dunn is still technically committed to OSU.

He has been open about his concerns with Ohio State, and he has serious interest in the Wolverines. With the mess that happened in Columbus, Dunn and his father are still monitoring the situation. The big factor for the four-star running back will be if Ohio State gets a bowl ban included in their sanctions.

There is a new twist to his commitment, however, with the news of Ohio State hiring Urban Meyer.

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Is Bri'onte Dunn still an option? 

November, 8, 2011
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Michigan just grabbed its 24th commitment for the 2012 class with running back Drake Johnson (Ann Arbor, Mich./Pioneer). The Johnson commitment means the coaching staff now has a fullback type committed in Sione Houma (Salt Lake City/Highland) and a speed back in Johnson.

The commitment also means there are only around three to four spots available for the rest of the class. That begs the question: What happens with the Wolverines' pursuit of Ohio State commitment Bri'onte Dunn (Canton, Ohio/Glenoak)?

Dunn has decided not to enroll early to the school of his choice, a switch from his longtime stance. That gives him more time to wait and see what happens with Ohio State and the NCAA sanctions. Since he will be waiting to make a decision it also gives him more time to check out other programs, including Michigan.

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