- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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.
The starter: Redshirt senior Fitzgerald Toussaint. While the former 1,000-yard rusher is still a giant question mark coming off a major injury suffered last season and his status is unknown for the start of the season, if he is healthy and close to his former self, he’ll get the nod. Mostly, though, he’ll receive it because he has the most experience and those behind him are, well, questionable at best to be able to be full-time starters yet, if at all.
The depth: Junior Thomas Rawls, redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes, redshirt freshman Drake Johnson, freshman Deveon Smith. This is, by any account, not the most inspiring group out there. Rawls showed flashes when he was used in limited spots, but when he was called on to be the full-time starter, it didn’t go well. Hayes, if he improves as a blocker, should fill the role vacated by Vincent Smith pretty well and could be a weapon. Johnson, the local kid, could be the one that pushes Toussaint the most. He has both the size and speed Michigan wants as a tailback and is a really, really good athlete. But this position, especially if Toussaint struggles coming back, is wide open, which could mean an immediate role for Smith as well if he comes in strong in the fall.
The question mark: Derrick Green. The No. 41 recruit in the country has yet to make a decision, but if he chooses Michigan, he automatically becomes a contender for playing time his first year in Ann Arbor. Green has the potential to be a complete back, possessing the size, speed and hands which could fit Michigan extremely well. With the Michigan running back situation essentially a convoluted mess, Green could offer some immediate clarity, if not in the short term, certainly by 2014 when Toussaint would be gone.
The bottom line: Michigan is going to need to find something productive out of its backfield next season, especially if the Wolverines want to turn into a pro style, running team. Right now, it is tough to see that happening in 2013 with a rebuilding offensive line and the team’s top running back a major health question mark. The difference between a successful Michigan season and one which doesn’t quite take shape could come down to this position.
Fullback bonus: The starter should be Joe Kerridge, who received the bulk of the playing time this season. He’ll have depth from sophomore Sione Houma and incoming freshman Wyatt Shallman, who could end up at both positions. The biggest question here is how much Michigan chooses to go into an ace formation with multiple tight ends or three wide receivers.