Last season, De'Veon Smith appeared to be the defacto number one running back for Michigan. At the very least, he appeared to be the one running back the coaching staff trusted the most with the ball in his hands in crucial situations.
Now with Smith graduating, the discovery process of finding a player the coaching staff can trust are beginning in the spring. With some returning talent, U-M running backs coach Jay Harbaugh has plenty to work with. When asked if he preferred that he found a lead back for the system, it appears that the Wolverines will be constantly shuffling players in and out like years prior.
"The guys are going to be put into positions they're good at so it might be a certain run for a certain guy or a certain scheme for a certain guy," Harbaugh said. "Obviously any coach would like a guy to emerge that they can trust. I'd like to be thinking that I'd like this guy to be in but, man, I'd really like to be playing with these guys, too. You'd like to be able to trust your whole group. I'd never liked thinking about running backs like that, like you're assuming two or three guys aren't going to be good enough. I want everyone to be good, it's pretty simple but I don't think it's ever talked about."
Another aspect of Smith's game the coaching staff trusted was Smith's abilities in the pass protection game. Multiple U-M running backs have stated that pass protection has been emphasized this season under Pep Hamilton's offense. Harbaugh wasn't shy about naming players that have excelled at that aspect this spring.
"They're all doing a much better job," Harbaugh said. "Ty Isaac has improved quite a bit, he's been excellent so far. Both fullbacks have been tremendous, Khalid [Hill] and [Henry] Poggi, and some other guys are coming along, too. I think we need some more live reps, the spring game will tell a lot as far as live bullets flying and seeing how people will react. Those guys are standing out."
Another name U-M fans are clamoring for an update about is redshirt freshman Kareem Walker. A prized recruit coming out of high school, Walker wasn't able to see the field last season. Heading into the spring, Walker has been working hard in order to see some playing time this season and, it appears, that his position coach has noticed that hard work.
"Doing really well," Harbaugh said of Walker. "He's doing a great job, he's coming along slowly but steadily and getting better and better at everything we ask him to do. He's going to contribute for us, most definitely."