Michigan Wolverines: Wyatt Shallman

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 26, 2014
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.

WolverineNation Roundtable 

July, 11, 2013
Every Thursday our writers sit down to thoughtfully discuss some issues surrounding Michigan sports. This week they ponder fall camp, 2014 commits and most importantly, reality TV.

1. We're less than a month to fall camp, which kink will it be important for the Wolverines to work out in those practices?

Fresh ideas: Running backs 

May, 31, 2013
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Can a true freshman really contribute at the college level? Is it easier to do so at one position than another? Over the next two months WolverineNation will be breaking down the probabilities of playing time and projections of the Wolverines’ freshmen, position-by-position. Today, we continue with running backs.

What it takes for a true freshman running back to play:

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Derrick Green is in the spot Anthony Thomas once inhabited, the role Michael Hart once played and one that has been played by many other running backs down the line.

They came to Michigan as freshmen and starred right away. The next guy potentially in line to do that is Green, the No. 5 running back in his class and the Wolverines’ highest-rated recruit this past recruiting cycle.

He has one other advantage as well -- he’s the guy chasing everyone else, from incumbent starter Fitzgerald Toussaint, who is coming off injury, to a gaggle of other running backs searching for time this fall.

[+] EnlargeMike Hart
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesEven Mike Hart, who ran for nearly 1,500 yards as a freshman in 2004, had to wait a couple of games before becoming Michigan's go-to back.
“It’s always better to be the young guy,” Thomas said. “You don’t want to be the guy with the young guy behind you, always on your heels. You want to be the person who is pushing the other guy.”

So how can Green -- or fellow freshmen Deveon Smith or Wyatt Shallman -- push enough to where he wins the job? There are a few ways. It doesn’t hurt that, of all the positions on the offense, the Wolverines have the longest history of playing freshman running backs.

And it’s not like stepping in as a quarterback or a lineman.

“Running back is the easiest position to transition to in college, playing as a freshman,” said Hart, who ran for 1,455 yards his first year. “I say that because if you’re a good running back, you just run the ball. You break tackles.

“You don’t teach kids how to break tackles. Transitioning, as far as just running the ball, is not hard. But the mental aspect is what slows guys down. If they can’t come in and learn the offense, they are not going to be able to play. But from an athletic standpoint, it is the easiest position to transition to.”

Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges has a strategy to deflect any mental issues which might arise. Instead of having his young backs handle everything early, he takes a similar approach to what one might take with a quarterback.

Everything in sections. Nothing too overwhelming too fast. If anything, Borges becomes more cautious with how much he drops on his freshmen because he’d rather have them wanting more than attempting to know too much.

“Teach him the run game and then teach him the pass game in pieces so you can then be functional as you go,” Borges said. “You can play a freshman running back as long as you don’t inundate him with so much information that it becomes disinformation, you know.

“But I’ve had a bunch of tailbacks come in and play as freshmen and didn’t give them too much. But by the fifth, sixth game of the season, they could handle all of it. Very few could handle it in game one.”

One could argue that was the case even with Hart, the sole Michigan freshman to rush for more than 1,000 yards. Hart received three carries late in his debut against Miami (Ohio) in 2004. The next week, he had five carries against Notre Dame.

It wasn’t until his third game where he received 25 carries against San Diego State where he really took hold of the position. He would carry the ball less than 20 times in a game only one more time that season -- against Ohio State.

In some ways, the same thing happened to Thomas. He had only nine carries in his first game against Colorado in 1997. The next week was his breakout performance, with 122 yards on 21 carries against Baylor.

So it takes some time to adjust.

“You have to have several things,” Thomas said. “You have to have the wits to know you’re going in steady as possible. You have to be able to retain information, be strong enough and be durable.

“You have to be able to do more than one thing at this level. You have to be able to run the ball as a running back but you have to be able to block and catch the ball out of the backfield.”

And the sooner a back handles that, the sooner he will have a true shot at being a featured running back.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The stuff of 2013 signee Wyatt Shallman's life seems like that of a tall tale, not what stereotypically would be the life of the No. 1 fullback in the nation.

There was that time as a toddler when his family was living in Singapore but vacationing in Queensland, Australia, when -- having just learned to walk -- he sprinted down the beach between the rough surf and crocodile-infested swamps only to be found 200 meters later, unharmed and laughing.

In elementary school, he once caught a 10-pound bass using nothing more than a Spiderman fishing rod and a Lifesaver candy.

Between seventh and eighth grade he grew 6 inches and gained 70 pounds. His growth spurt put him over the top end of allowable weights for ball carriers in his junior high league, forcing him to move from quarterback to defensive tackle.

Wyatt Shallman
Courtesy of Wyatt Shallman2013 Michigan signee Wyatt Shallman poses on the field at the Big House with his sisters Annah (left) and Devon.
Today, Shallman volunteers at a retirement community, hanging out with the retirees. They discuss everything from war stories to football and spend afternoons painting, bowling and playing card games.

So in a recruiting scene full of faces and names that always seem to be interchangeable, Shallman stands out. He has never allowed football to become -- or change -- his identity.

“It’s not necessarily me marching to the beat of my own drum, or me doing things because they’re different,” Shallman said. “It’s what I like to do. ... I just feel like too many people are worried about how they look or how people perceive them.”

Starting in June, a large part of Shallman’s perception will be shaded by the fact he’ll be a member of the Michigan football team. And that’s OK with him. Football was always the place Shallman had the most fun. Even though he’ll be at Michigan, it’ll still be football.

“Wyatt has always been very comfortable and gregarious. Even when he was a little kid he was always the guy who would have the most fun on the team,” said John Shallman, Wyatt’s father. “It has been his personality the whole time.”

Football was the sport he loved the most, even though he exceled in several. In basketball, he had loved the contact. In baseball, he could rip the cover off the ball. And in track, he was a 100- and 200-meter specialist.

So being a defensive end and fullback combined all of those.

“As stupid as it is, playing football is just fun,” Shallman said. “But when you’re playing running back or D-end, they’re just cool niche positions. ... There are so many intricacies and ways you can do the same thing -- that has always been cool to me.”

And it didn’t hurt that it was a sport that embraced Shallman’s eccentricity, even at a Catholic high school (which he got in to after acing an entrance exam he took on a whim).

During the day he might wear a headband or carry a briefcase (which he named Krista) around school with him, but after school he made even bigger statements on the football field.

Brady Hoke and Michigan noticed very early. They wanted to install a downhill, power run game with the Wolverines. And Shallman -- whose favorite Michigan football years can be charted back to the 1960s and ’70s under Bo Schembechler -- exemplified that.

Shallman hadn’t even considered college football as an option when Michigan offered. He didn’t have older brothers who had gone through the process nor had he received much attention from recruiters or college coaches.

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Spring practice has ended for Michigan and for the first time, the depth chart for the fall is beginning to take shape.

Yes, there will still be some big competitions on Michigan’s offense -- particularly at running back and wide receiver -- but there is now a better idea of who the Wolverines’ starting 11 will be in August when they open the season against Central Michigan.

WolverineNation takes a two-day look at what Michigan’s depth chart will be come fall, starting with the offense.


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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Ideally, this conversation would not happen at Michigan or many other BCS-level programs this fall or any fall. But, things occur because of injuries, attrition and coaching switches so it leads to college coaches looking at guys they recruit and saying the same thing.

Which one of these guys will be able to play right away?

In basketball this is a way of life. In football it can get dangerous, depending on the competition. As Michigan builds up its roster, it has had to rely on freshmen less and less, but this season the Wolverines still will need to look to some first-year players to be key contributors on offense and defense.

Here’s a look at five freshmen -- or spots -- where you could see rookies this fall.

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State of the rivalry: Running backs 

February, 19, 2013
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.

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Big RBs signal change in offense 

February, 7, 2013
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Despite coaching for more than 20 years at Michigan, there are a few years for running backs that stick out to Fred Jackson.

There was 1992 with Tyrone Wheatley, Tim Biakabutuka and Jesse Johnson. There was 2003 with Chris Perry, Kevin Dudley and Braylon Edwards.

To Jackson, these are the years that stick. Because those are the teams that had a significant run game and made it, unsurprisingly, to the Rose Bowl.

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While Greg Mattison might be recognized as the best recruiter among Michigan assistants, it is clear that running backs coach Fred Jackson deserves some recognition, as well.

Not only has he been on the Michigan coaching staff for 20-plus years -- working with Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke -- but given the recruits he was able to bring in for the 2013 class, fans will enjoy a more streamlined run game.

As dazzling as some of Denard Robinson’s jaunts were, Michigan hasn’t really had an up-the-middle, smashmouth run game in the recent past, but Jackson is convinced that with his three 2013 running back signees, the Wolverines will be able to do just that.

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With the commitment of Derrick Green (Richmond, Va./Hermitage), Michigan has landed its highest-ranked running back since 2006. Green, the No. 5-rated running back, is the only ESPN 150 back to pick Michigan during that time frame.

He isn’t the first running back commit for the Wolverines in the 2013 class, as Deveon Smith (Warren, Ohio/Howland) and Wyatt Shallman (Novi, Mich./Detroit Catholic Central) are also committed, but Green is a huge get for a number of reasons.

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Michigan looks to fix run game 

January, 18, 2013
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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Depth chart analysis: RB/FB 

January, 8, 2013
Over the next few weeks, WolverineNation will look at every position on the Michigan roster and give a depth chart analysis of each heading into the offseason.

Michigan’s running backs never got going this season. No matter who was in the backfield, other than quarterback-turned-athlete Denard Robinson, no Wolverines running back could do much of anything this season.

On a team with some major offensive questions, who will run the ball for Michigan next season might be the biggest -- and most critical -- question for the Wolverines’ season.

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Michigan targets shine in HS playoffs 

November, 27, 2012
It was an exciting few nights of high school football as the Michigan high school state finals came to a conclusion. The top teams in the state put it all on the line and the victors saw all their hard work pay off.

There were plenty of Michigan commits and targets still in the mix for a state championship. Not all came out victorious, but they all seemed to put up big numbers in the final game.

[+] EnlargeJourdan Lewis
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comJourdan Lewis was a major factor on both sides of the ball as Cass Tech repeated as state champ.
In the best performance of the weekend, and in the history books, 2014 wide receiver Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich./Grand Rapids Christian) had eight receptions for 243 yards and one touchdown in his team's overtime win against Orchard Lake St. Mary's.

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The season is on the horizon and everyone in Ann Arbor can feel it looming, specifically the writers who are reeling from Big Ten media day and getting ready for Michigan media day.

We are just five days away from the official start of the Michigan football season, when the players will take the field with coach Brady Hoke for the start of fall camp, so this mailbag is devoted solely to your beloved Team 133.

At WolverineNation, we love hearing from our readers. Next week, Mike will be handling the mailbag so make sure you email questions to michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or Tweet him @mikerothstein.

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Michigan C Cites Concussions In Decision To Quit
Joe Schad discusses how concussions and a concern over long-term health have helped Michigan center Jack Miller decide not to play football his senior year.