ANN ARBOR—Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson has seen his fair share of talented tailbacks run through Ann Arbor since being hired by the Wolverines 22 years ago. With high level talent and experience stretching from top to bottom on Michigan’s depth chart in 2013, Jackson can’t help but compare this group to the one he lead in his first season in 1992.
“This is identical almost to early on when I had Wheatley, Biakabutuka, Ricky Powers, Jesse Johnson and Eddie Davis,” Jackson said. “I had those guys at the same time.
“You didn’t know (cause) Biakabutuka hadn’t played any football, played one year of high school football. You didn’t know. Eddie Davis was a journeyman kind of guy and when you look at a guy like Jesse Johnson, he could’ve started most places. I think these guys are giving me that opportunity, that kind of situation to choose from.”
Offering no comment on which of his current backs compare to that original cast, the incumbent, redshirt senior Fitz Toussaint, looking to not only bounce back quickly from a gruesome leg injury in 2012, is also trying to regain his form from 2011 when the Ohio native rushed for 1,041 yards, the 31st running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in the history of Michigan football.
Confidently stating the starting job will be his during an interview last week, his coach praises that mentality in all of his backs.
“He’s practicing with a lot of confidence,” Jackson said of Toussaint. “That’s self proclaimed obviously, that he said that, we haven’t determined who the starting tailback is. But I like that in all my guys.
“I told them, you should think that the sun rises and sets on your behind, and I want them to feel that way, I want every one of them to feel that way. I want them to be cocky but not arrogant guys.”
After months and months of detailed and grueling time in rehab, Jackson added that Toussaint looks even faster than he was before the injury, noting, “He breaks runs that maybe a year ago he probably would’ve not been able to go. But he breaks now and he’s gone.”
Freshmen adjusting mentally
Coming into camp carrying more than a fair amount of hype, true freshman tailback Derrick Green also brought a bigger frame than expected, weighing in at 240-pounds. Normally cause for some concern for a player looked upon to carry the ball immediately, Jackson assuaged the idea that the former five-star recruit will be too heavy to hit the field.
“Right now, you don’t see any evidence of it,” Jackson said. “You got to wait. After two-a-days are over he’s going to lose some weight. I don’t know what his playing weight is, coach Wellman is going to talk to me about that as he see’s him more but I don’t know about that situation right now. After a couple weeks I’ll know.
“I know that when I saw him on the high school film, he was 240. He’s a big guy. You got to look at him from the back and the side -- that’s a huge human being.”
Suffering a minor injury in camp last week, Green has been sidelined ever since. Not expected to miss any significant time, Jackson still envisions Green will be in the mix for the starting job.
“I think he’ll still have that ability because he’s in the mental part of it,” Jackson said. “He’ll be fine that way.
“You lose a little bit physically but mentally he’s in the meetings and stuff,” Jackson said. “He’s going to be all right. He’ll get back and be ready to go here real soon. I don’t think it’ll hurt him that much.”
In the short time watching Green in practice, Jackson believes the Wolverines have a good one in the making.
“He can make you miss,” Jackson added. “He’s got great feet, a lot better than I thought, and I think he’s going to be as advertised.”
Fellow true freshman and former four-star running back DeVeon Smith is taking full advantage of the added work in Green’s absence. At 5-foot-11, 224-pounds, Smith brings versatility to the position with speed and power of his own, quickly acclimating himself to the offense.
“DeVeon’s been out there everyday,” Jackson said. “You know he’s picking it up because you see it physically.”
Looking like Michigan football of old
Jackson is seeing shades of yesteryear as Michigan gets back to the ground and pound, downhill, pro style offensive attack those in Ann Arbor are traditionally accustomed to. Unable to find consistent production with the rushing attack in 2012, yielding just 946 yards outside of the late season outbursts Denard Robinson enjoyed, Jackson says it will be a different story in 2013.
“I’m telling you right now, when we put our guys together this year, you’re going to see the stuff that you used to see in Michigan running backs,” Jackson said. “I really believe that. You’re going to see some guys who, on third and one, they’re going to get it.
“You’re going to see guys, if they got a crease, they’re going to get in it. You’ve got those kind of guys.”
Add Justice Hayes, Thomas Rawls and Drake Johnson to the mix, the competition for carries is expected to intensify as camp continues into this week. Uncertain of what the rotation will be at the position, or how many backs could be in line to receive a consistent amount of carries, Jackson says things will more than likely drag into the season.
“I think what we got to do is go through the first game and see those guys in the game if you can, as much as you can,” he said. “And then you can be able to determine. You got to have a main guy, yes, but after that, how you rotate those guys is going to be predicated on how well they do the rest of two-a-days and that first football game.
“You’ve got some really good running backs that, none of them shy away from nothing. They’ll all run through you, they’ll all block you, they all can catch, I mean, they all have got pretty good smarts so, it’s going to be interesting.”
To watch video of Jackson discussing his stable of running backs on media day, press play below.