Tyrone Wheatley says the lead running back role is De'Veon Smith's job to lose

Tyrone Wheatley spoke highly of senior running back De'Veon Smith, saying the starting spot is his job to lose at this point in time.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan saw flashes of what senior running back De'Veon Smith could do last season when he was fully healthy.

An ankle injury suffered early during the season plagued him of production. Despite not missing much time, Smith was able to cap the 2015 off strong with an excellent bowl game performance. Then again, the entire Wolverine team didn't have a weakness at all.

Now, heading into spring, Smith is confident that he is able to carry the load for the Wolverines with other running backs on the depth chart looking for carries as well. It also helps having the confidence of your position coach, too.

"It is his job to lose at this stage," running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley said. "He was focused last year... Now he understands what to focus on. Not being a guy who played every down, carried every snap, you know, carried the load. Having that year under his belt, he understands what to focus on. I think you can see that in his game right now, he understands what to focus on. Last year I think he was all over the place and now his focus is more streamlined on where he needs to be and what his role is."

What exactly entails becoming a lead back remains to be seen. With Smith's aggressive style of football, heavy snaps every week won't be sustainable. However, according to Wheatley, U-M would be able to insert change of pace backs into the game at any time with ease and, at the same time, keep Smith's workload and output going each week.

For now, 20-to-25 carries appears to be about the limit for Smith.

"It's hard to say," Wheatley said. "He's a tough runner, he gets stronger and more physical as the game goes on, he's a tough guy. For a guy that dishes out and receives that much punishment, that's where we're going back to the mastery stage of trying to slip some guys and not to take as many hits as possible, but still be able to finish the run in the end. I think he can be anywhere from 20-25 (carries.) If you have guys that can take some pressure off him, a change of pace guy, to take that load off him, why not."

For a running back that seeks out contact, Smith might need to scale back a little bit if he wants to continue to carry the load for U-M heading into 2016. While Wheatley doesn't want to discourage Smith from being what he is, which is an aggressive runner, he also encourages Smith to add some more facets of the game into his repertoire. 

"It's not tough," Wheatley said. "I think once he understands with his skill set that he has a little more than being just a straight down the middle guy. You don't want to take the aggression away from him. The basis of the foundation of who De'Veon is as a runner, you just want to make him go. But at the same time, add another tool to the toolbox. If you make a guy miss, make him miss."

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