ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Boasting as much depth at the running back position, albeit unproven, as there’s been in quite a while at Michigan, Brady Hoke is already starting to see some separation at the top of the depth chart just one week into fall camp.
"I'd say right now, it'd be Drake (Johnson) and De'Veon (Smith), say, 1A and 1B,” Hoke said at Michigan’s media day Sunday morning. “And then two is Derrick (Green)."
Yes, that Drake Johnson.
Appearing to be a major factor heading into the 2013 season a year ago, Johnson, a graduate of Ann Arbor Pioneer high school across the street from Michigan Stadium, had his season cut short due to a torn ACL.
Now healthy and even claiming to be stronger than before, Johnson is turning heads as a possible true, do it all type of back for first year Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
“Drake looks really explosive coming off the injury from last season,” Nussmeier said. “He did a great job with rehab, Schmitty and his staff and then Aaron (Wellman) in the summer; they did a great job of getting him ready to go.”
The emergence of De’Veon Smith in the first week is a bit less surprising.
After receiving snaps few and far between in the first half of last season, Smith ended the year with some more productive performances including eight carries for 41-yards in a win at Northwestern and seven carries for 57-yards in Michigan’s home loss to Ohio State.
Standing 5-foot-11, 220-pounds, one part of Smith’s game stands out above everything else.
“First thing when you talk about De’Veon you talk about how physical a player he is,” Nussmeier said. “He’s a tough, tough player and he really day in and day out puts on his hard hat and brings his lunch pale and to me that’s the thing that’s stood out the most about him.”
Michigan coach Brady Hoke offered the same sentiment when asked about the Ohio native.
"His development has been really good,” Hoke said. “He's got competition there, and the one thing I know about De'Veon is he's probably as tough a guy as I've been around.
“His identity is toughness. With the way he practices, he can get dinged up, but he's still going to go and go and go."
Behind Smith and Johnson is Derrick Green, a former No. 1 ranked running back out of high school and coming off an admittedly disappointing freshman season.
With that in mind, Green spent his time and energy improving himself physically during the off-season, now down to 220-pounds, remaining a viable candidate to receive a good chunk of carries this fall.
"A year ago, he looked more like me,” Hoke said jokingly. “He's really worked hard through the nutrition with Joel Totoro, our nutritionist, to what he's done in the weight room.
“From a physical standpoint, he's done a really nice job being a little more intelligent with what he feeds the engine, because that's a big part of it. He looks a lot different."
Firm in his belief that one featured back is the way to go since arriving at Michigan, ideally Hoke is looking for that guy to emerge with still three weeks remaining before the season opener Aug. 30 against Appalachian State.
"We'll find out,” he said. “I don't know. We've done it here before, and it's been pretty good. But I wouldn't say that's what we're looking to do today. We're looking to find the best and most consistent guy first.
“I think we're going through that. They're all getting a lot of reps. The other part is our receivers and how they're adding in to the running game to different fronts and different things that the quarterbacks may be adjusting to and checking to. That's real positive."