Spring Game Preview: The Running Backs

Take a closer look at Michigan's running backs heading into Saturday's spring game, what to look for from the position, spring overview, roles, and more.

No longer a senior among the crew, Michigan’s running back depth chart is wide open, diverse and motivated to prove 2013, and even previous seasons, was simply a mirage.

Michigan’s now sophomore tailbacks De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green took to winter conditioning and came to spring football in tremendous shape, with the body type and skill set to flourish under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

Add in Justice Hayes, newly flipped defensive back Ross Douglas and a do it all type in Wyatt Shallman and Michigan doesn’t have great, proven depth, but will have several bodies littered with opportunity all over the place to standout in Saturday’s spring game.

Here’s a closer look at the position battle:

RB #4 – De’Veon Smith

2013 Season Statistics:

Starts: 0 (12 games played)

Rush attempts: 26

Rush yards: 117

Yards per carry: 4.5

Touchdowns: 0

Longest run: 38 yards

Spring Overview:

Looked past and discussed little heading into the 2013 season, Smith went through a maturing process on and off the field leading up to Michigan’s trip to East Lansing in the loss to Michigan State. Left off the travel roster for that game by Coach Brady Hoke, the message was received by Smith and the bowling ball built freshman put together some nice carries including an eight carry, 41-yard performance in the win at Northwestern and seven carries for 57-yards in a home loss to Ohio State. Flashes though, are all we saw out of Smith late in the season, receiving little time in the Wolverines bowl loss to Kansas State. This spring, Smith, as chiseled as ever, has gone out looking to be the No. 1 tailback for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, drawing praise for his toughness and fit in the new, “simpler” system.

What to look for Saturday:

At a powerful 5-foot-11, 223-pounds with quick feet and good speed, Smith’s opportunity is plentiful Saturday. No longer stuck behind fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who received the bulk of snaps and carries under former offensive coordinator Al Borges, Smith can cement himself as a centerpiece in Michigan’s offense with a standout performance. Pass protection will be something to keep an eye on, something all of Michigan’s running backs struggled with in 2013, not just the freshmen, but with a Wolverines’ rushing attack looking for life, Smith could showcase a bit of that Saturday.

RB #27 – Derrick Green

2013 Season Statistics:

Starts: 1 (13 games played)

Rush attempts: 83

Rush yards: 270

Yards per carry: 3.3

Touchdowns: 2

Longest run: 30

Spring Overview:

Hardly the freshman season many expected including Green himself who saw carries in spots for Michigan but was largely unused in part because of weight issues, at one point up to 240-pounds, also stuck behind a senior that gave the Wolverines former offensive coordinator a greater sense of comfort on the field. In limited time, Green showed spurts of the five-star talent most projected him to be coming out of high school but was never able to put it together over a stretch of plays (again, largely because he was taken out after one play). Featured in a win at Northwestern, Green toted the rock 19 times for 79-yards, also playing a large part in the loss to Ohio State with 12 carries and 47-yards. Beyond that, the 2013 season was a wash for Green. Getting back to work this spring, Green weighed in at 227-pounds, built better and solidly as opposed to camp in August. With the weight loss and distribution Green was able to display the talent, light feet, vision and power he’s capable of this spring. The dedication Green showed off the field this winter has no doubt put him in a position to earn carries this fall, again, like Smith, a good fit in Doug Nussmeier’s offensive attack.

What to look for Saturday:

Carries. It’s pretty simple with Green, Michigan fans looking to see and feel his rough, rugged style of play could have the chance to see it live Saturday. Whether or not Green should have been featured more as a freshman or not, the time is now to step up and step in as the Wolverines look to regain the identity missing from the team since Mike Hart and Jake Long left following the 2007 season. No, Saturday, in the grand scheme of things, won’t tell the whole tale but look for a guy that is hungry to earn the starting job and eager to prove he isn’t a five-star flame out in Ann Arbor. Motivation should be there for Green to attempt to separate himself and with solid carries should at least give the team some confidence in the running game as a young, struggling offensive line looks to piece it together up front.

RB #5 – Justice Hayes

2013 Season Statistics:

Starts: 1 (11 games played)

Rush attempts: 2

Rush yards: 6

Yards per carry: 3.0

Touchdowns: 0

Receptions: 6

Receiving yards: 40

Spring overview:

Used sparingly in 2013, Hayes has cemented himself as a dependable veteran despite limited carries and opportunities. Hayes greatest asset is in the passing game; mostly out of the backfield and getting out on screens but his pass blocking also landed him extra snaps last fall. Not talked about much at all at the running back position, Hayes could be the third down back Michigan wants to use with strong hands and good awareness in the backfield. This spring, Hayes has made sure to put his name in the conversation of the running back conversation and can remain there with a steady performance Saturday.

What to look for Saturday:

Role. What role will Hayes play in this offense? No, I would surmise Michigan won’t be revealing much of anything offensively Saturday but it’ll be interesting to see how Hayes is used, if it’s more on a situation basis or potentially even featured for a series to see what he can handle.

RB #29 – Ross Douglas

2013 Season Statistics:

N/a (played defensive back in 2013)

Spring overview:

A bit of a wild card after making the switch from defensive back to running back, Douglas is of a similar mold to Justice Hayes. On the shorter end of the ledger at 5-foot-10 and 186-pounds, Douglas was a high school running back that put up big numbers and was a big play machine in the state of Ohio. Adding weight has been key this off-season, with more to come before fall camp, but Douglas, depending on how quickly he’s been able to restart his running back skills and pick up the new offensive system, could see time in place of Hayes this fall.

What to look for Saturday:

Curious if Douglas’ big play ability will translate to the college game. Douglas returned kicks and did it all in high school, it will be interesting to see if he has breakaway speed at the position showing the capability of chunk plays.

RB #33 – Wyatt Shallman

2013 Season Statistics:

N/a (redshirt in 2013)

Spring overview:

Now healthy and up to 6-foot-3, 243-pounds, Wyatt Shallman is a jack of all trades candidate for Michigan, capable of playing running back, fullback and even H-back at times for the Wolverines, rotating throughout the spring. With obvious size, Shallman has good feet, with his versatility being an interesting asset for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to work with this spring.

What to watch for Saturday:

Where in the world will Shallman be used? Very intriguing question to be asked and answered for a young man that could play in several spots in Michigan’s backfield. If Shallman has been able to pick up the offense quickly we could see him carve out a role in the Wolverines’ offense.

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