Spring Preview: The Running Backs

GBW continues to preview each position on the Michigan offense and defense -- both for the spring and in the fall. How do the running backs stack up going into Spring Practice? Here is GBW's anaylsis, including comments from former Assistant Recruiting Coordinator Mark Ouimet.

Much like John Navarre at the quarterback position, Chris Perry has firmly secured his spot as the starting running back for the Wolverines. In 2002, he carried the ball 267 times for 1110 yards and 14 touchdowns, while adding an additional 14 catches for 156 yards. He showed last year, for the first time, that he could still perform well through the minor bumps and bruises that come with the running back position. He truly developed into a good dependable player, finishing the season strong with a four touchdown performance against Florida. However, Perry's career has been plagued by a number of injuries that have hampered his play. With no other proven running backs on the roster, either Perry will need to stay healthy, or one of the backups will need to step up in 2003. The Michigan coaches are certainly hoping for both.

Former Assistant Recruiting Coordinator Mark Ouimet on Perry: "Chris Perry will go into the spring as the starter, and he should have a good year running behind an experienced and talented line. Here's what caught my eye about Chris. When B.J. Askew got hurt in the Outback Bowl, Michigan threw the screen passes that usually went to B.J., to Perry instead. And he caught the ball well and ran well after the catch. Especially with Sanderson at fullback this year -- Sean is more of a blocking fullback -- Michigan may throw more to Perry. Also remember, in Anthony Thomas' senior year Michigan sometimes put him in motion out of the backfield as a receiver. So they may do that with Perry as well. The one criticism of Perry in the past has been that he's tended to not improvise -- he tended to run straight ahead into the planned hole no matter what. He needs to improve his ability to improvise a little bit, and catching passses in the open field may actually help him with that. So that's what Perry could be working on in the spring."

Chris Perry (AP Photo/Paul Warner)

Spring Practice will see a four man showdown for the role of backup running back.

Ouimet: "Michigan can't risk injury in the spring with Chris Perry. So the other running backs will get a lot of reps in spring practice. Most of the reps in the spring will go to David Underwood and Tim Bracken."

Junior David Underwood brings two years of experience with him, but he has yet to distinguish himself in limited playing time. In 2002, he carried the ball just 36 times for 105 yards. Underwood brings a dimension of speed and power, though he lacks the "wiggle" and the great quick cutting ability of some of the other backs. However, the most important area of improvement will be the elimination of fumbles from his game. As a backup, he has fumbled the ball too much, which has reduced his playing time, and hurt his development. If he proves that he can hang on to the ball in the spring, the Michigan coaches may trust him to carry the ball more in the future.

Ouimet on Underwood: "David Underwood will be the first given the chance to compete with Perry or to be the number two back. He is Michigan's biggest back after Perry. He has deceptive speed, he's faster than people think. And he can catch the ball out of backfield. Similar to Perry, he's a straight ahead runner who needs to improve on finding the whole and exploding through it, and also on improvising when the hole is not there. He also needs more work on his blocking. Is David considered fumble-prone? Not any more than the other backs. Fumbling is a problem, and a worry, for ALL the backs, always. David has a little bit of a fumble problem perhaps, but it's more of a nervious problem ... it will go away with practice. But I don't think he is considered particularly fumble-prone."

David Underwood (Getty Images/Danny Moloshok)

Redshirt junior Timmy Bracken will also compete for playing time in Spring Practice. Early in the fall of 2001, Bracken was making a strong push to grab the starting job at running back, but suffered a devastating and unusual break to his leg. He was forced to sit out while recovering, losing a year of eligibility, as he had already redshirted. He returned to play in 2002, although it's debatable as to whether or not he was 100% recovered from his injury. He carried the ball just 27 times for 97 yards. Bracken adds a dimension of quickness, and cutting ability. If he can fully recover his speed and flexibility from before his injury, he will have a great chance to win the backup job.

Ouimet: "As far as Tim Bracken. Two seasons ago he had a great fall, and would've been the number two back, then he broke his femur. It's hard to get it all back from that injury. But Tim is explosive -- he can make things happen. He's a quick little back, with good vision. If he is back physically, he will get lot of reps this spring. The biggest question will be his health, is he strong enough. So strength and conditioning are keys for him."

Tim Bracken (GoBlueWolverine Photo/Pete Stanger)

A pair of redshirt freshman, Pierre Rembert and Darnell Hood will also push for the backup job at running back. Rembert has reportedly impressed in practices, and in an early February engagement, Lloyd Carr noted that the Wisconsin native was up to 225 pounds. While Rembert lacks blazing speed, he is reported to have great instincts for the position. Darnell Hood is a great athlete that would add quickness to the position. However, as has been noted, he's also a potential candidate to move to cornerback.

Ouimet: "As far as redshirt freshmen Pierre Rembert and Darnell Hood are concerned. Both were demo team backs last year. There are two things to remember about Rembert and Hood. First, there will be injuries, there always are. So one of them is liable to have to play a role this year. The other thing is: Michigan usually has four running backs, and Rembert and Hood make five, with two more freshmen coming in in the fall; also there is a shortage on defense at cornerback. So they probably have to come up with another corner -- so someone may move. Remember, Charles Drake, Tim Shaw, Julius Curry, Ian Gold -- all came in as running backs."
"Pierre Rembert came in as a skinny little kid ... fast though. Coach Carr has said he's up to 220+ now, so we'll have to see how he's changed. So at that size a position change is not that likely for him I'd say. Plus, in two years, Perry, Underwood and Bracken will all be gone. That's why Michigan signed two tailbacks this year. So Rembert (and Hood) are our future tailbacks."
"Darnell Hood would make the easiest transition to cornerback. He's 5-11, 190 lbs., quick. And he could play right away there. So he will probably start at running back this spring, but if he ends up as the number four or five tailback, he could help us 'somewhere else'. Mid-spring-practice position switches are not uncommon, or a kid may be asked just to try another position for a few days, or to split time at two positions and see which works out best (Bellamy did that) -- all are possibilities."

In the fall, Michigan will also add Anton Campbell and Jerome Jackson. Both will begin at running back, but each has great potential at defensive back as well. Michigan has recruited solid players at running back over the last several years, but the only true superstar, Kelly Baraka, is no longer with the team. As a result, the Wolverines would like to land at least one top running back in 2004 to go with the great numbers that they already possess.

Ouimet adds: "One more thing -- it's important in this next recruiting class to get a big-time tailback back, or two."

With B.J. Askew off to the NFL, Spring Practice will feature a battle for the starting position at fullback. Redshirt sophomore Sean Sanderson saw extensive playing time in 2002, but has also drawn criticism from Lloyd Carr on numerous occasions for his lack of conditioning. Sanderson provides a devastating run blocker with surprisingly good hands, but he will need to work hard in the off-season to get in the good graces of his coaches. Competing with Sanderson will be redshirt junior Kevin Dudley, who has earned praise as a solid blocker. In addition, Carr noted Jim Presley's potential as a fullback in his signing day press conference. But at just 215 pounds, it would be very difficult for him to be physically ready in time for fall practice. Given the lack of depth, one may expect a position change in the Spring to help bolster the fullback situation. David Underwood and Pierre Rembert may both be candidates to switch to fullback. Carr has previously noted Tim Massaquoi as having potential there as well. Brian Thompson showed great receiving skills as a tight end in high school, but his lack of height would potentially translate better to fullback on offense.

Ouimet on fullbacks: "Sean Sanderson is a big body, so he's primarily a blocking fullback -- he's not really going to be catching it out of backfield a lot. Behind him is Kevin Dudley, who is a junior, and possibly Phillip Brackins. So there is a need for fullbacks. This could mean incoming freshman Jim Presley will play fullback ... one could almost says it's inevitable. Presley played running back in high school - he's big, fast, and can run. Plus there are a lot of linebackers on the roster, and a shortage fullback."

Sean Sanderson (AP Photo/Tom Roberts)

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