Michigan’s running back position became a lot clearer on Tuesday.
During the second day of Big Ten Media Days, when asked about the frontrunner for the starting running back spot, Brady Hoke said De’Veon Smith has the lead, while Derrick Green and Drake Johnson are trailing behind.
“If anything, De”Veon (will start), probably,” Hoke said. “He protected a little better. It’s tight. There may be three backs, if (all three) run the ball and are productive.”
That’s tough news to hear about Green, a player every Michigan fan expected to make an immediate impact. He’s received comparisons to Anthony Thomas and Mike Hart but like most of Hoke’s prized recruits, he hasn’t panned out just yet. He appeared in each game as a freshman last season but only logged 83 carries for 270 yards. Entering his freshman year, several recruiting services named Green the No. 1 recruit in the nation. As a senior at Hermitage (Virginia), he rushed for 1,350 and 1,500 yards in back-to-back seasons on varsity.
Green could steal the job from Smith, but he has to continue to show his commitment to the team. Smith was hardly used last season (12 games, 117 yards) but from a physical standpoint, he’s too good to leave on the bench this season. In the spring game, it was easy to tell that the weight room was kind to him during the offseason. He bulked up, put on muscle and looked like a harder runner to tackle because of it.
Johnson is vying for the third spot on the depth chart. It’s hard to believe he could steal the starting job from Smith, especially after Johnson tore his ACL against Central Michigan last year. Johnson was a highly touted in-state prospect from Ann Arbor Pioneer who stayed home to play at Michigan. Although he isn’t a household name like Green, he brings a burst of speed to the Wolverines’ backfield.
He said he was 248 pounds with 27% body fat as a freshman last year but now is 220 pounds with 9% body fat. “Work for what you want,” he wrote.
Asked to explain the difference in Green, who arrived as the nation’s No. 1 tailback recruit last fall but struggled as a freshman, Hoke repeated the name of strength coach Aaron Wellman.
Hoke said that Green’s mentality began to change near the end of last year, making a commitment to his workouts and diet.
Just having competition makes it an interesting fall for U-M, after three years of Fitz Toussaint being the primary back.
“That was all we had; we were kind of limited,” Hoke said. “De’Veon and Derrick, we would have liked for them to have progressed a little faster last year.”