2012 Michigan Football Backfield Preview

Depth Chart:


3rd Down Back V. Smith4 Justice Hayes AP Image
  Vincent Smith Justice Hayes

Freshmen likely to redshirt: Drake Johnson

FB Stephen Hopkins - 4 Joe Kerridge in action during Michigan's annual Spring Football Game at Michigan Stadium, Saturday, April 15th.
  Stephen Hopkins  Joe Kerridge

Freshmen likely to redshirt: Sione Houma

Player by player breakdown:

Fitzgerald Toussaint

Big things were expected out of Fitz coming off his 1,000 yd performance a year ago. While his ceiling remains high, Toussaint’s recent run-in with the law puts a damper on the eFitz Toussaintxcitement level most had for him going into the year. Toussaint is a year older and stronger, and he could put up a monster year stats wise with a full 12 game season to work with. The big emphasis for Fitz going into the offseason was improving his receiving and blocking skills and much will be expected of him in that regard this season. While Fitz was a dynamic player as a runner, his receiving and blocking performance left a lot to be desired. Fitz will once again be expected to help shoulder the load in the running game and take some of the pressure off of Denard Robinson.

Thomas Rawls

Rawls is the big, physical back that Michigan has been without since Brandon Minor graduated. Standing at what can only be described as a generous 5’10, Rawls is a bowling ball at 218lbs. Michigan’s coaching staff have showered Rawls with praise for his running style and physicality between the tackle, and how finishes runs. Rawls will be the starter if/when Fitz is suspended but was expected to play a large role offensively even before Fitz found himself in legal trouble. Expect Rawls to play major role on short yardage plays and as a change of pace back.

Vincent Smith

Smith came to Michigan as an undersized and underrated sleeper. Vinny is the most versatile back on Michigan’s roster, becoming the first player in Michigan history to score a TD as a passer, runner, and receiver. Smith is surprisingly powerful for his size and he has a knack for breaking tackles and finding lanes to the open field. Smith is expected to take on the same role that he did a year ago as the 3rd down back. Expect to see Smith catching plenty of passes out of the backfield, split out at WR, in addition to his time running the ball.

Justice Hayes

Justice redshirted last year so opportunities to watch him play have been limited. Coaches rave about Hayes’ speed and quickness and he is a naturally gifted pass receiver. Justice’s best days are ahead of him and his speed will certainly be of value to the Wolverines down the road. Hayes best chance to see the field this season will likely be on special teams.

Dennis Norfleet

Norfleet is pure speed and quickness and he has the potential to break games wide open. How much time Norfleet will see at the RB position is yet to be determined. Norfleet is not an every down back and the possibility exists that he could ultimately end up spending more time practicing with the WRs than the RBs. Norfleet is expected to eventually be used in a variety of ways and at a variety of positions, from RB and slot WR, to kick and punt returner. As it stands, Norfleet’s best chance for seeing the field this season is as a returner on special teams.

Stephen Hopkins2Drake Johnson

Drake Johnson comes to Michigan from just across the street having played his high school ball at Ann Arbor Pioneer. Drake was a star hurdler at Pioneer who decided to commit to football. While more physically imposing that Norfleet, speed is also the name of the game with Johnson. Johnson has incredible straight line speed and is a terror to catch once he’s in the open field. Short of a rash of injuries decimating the RB core, Johnson is expected to redshirt this season.

Stephen Hopkins

Hopkins came to Michigan expecting to play the same role that was filled by Brandon Minor. While physical, Hopkins lacks the burst and quickness necessary for a starting role at a program like Michigan. Issues hanging onto the football ultimately pushed Hopkins over to FB where he filled in nicely over the course of the season. Hopkins is the biggest back on the Michigan roster, and his body style is very conducive to playing FB. Hopkins is also a good receiver out of the backfield and because of the time spent at RB, he is a natural runner. The biggest question going into the off-season was how much Hopkins would improve as an impact blocker. Hopkins was a capable blocker a year ago in his role at FB. The next step in progression for Hopkins is for him to start making high impact blocks that lead to big plays on a regular basis. Depth and talent issues at TE may force Hopkins to play an even larger role in Michigan’s offense this season. OC Al Borges floated the idea that the FB could take over the role that was played by the 2nd TE Michigan used last season.

Joe Kerridge

Kerridge suffered a serious knee injury in high school and was forced to redshirt last season. Joe Kerridge represents a more traditional FB than the others on the roster. Kerridge won’t wow you in the passing game, or as a runner, but he’s a big, physical kid who likes nothing better than knocking the snot out of defenders. Depending on how well he has recovered, Kerridge should provide valuable depth at FB.

Sione Houma

Houma is Michigan’s first Pacific Islander in recent memory and he was hand-picked by Al Borges despite the presence of other, more “highly regarded” FBs. Michigan had other recruiting options at FB but choose Houma because they feel he has a unique skill-set. Houma represents exactly what Al Borges looks for in a FB. Houma has a very diverse skill-set, he can run, he can catch, and he is deceptively fast and agile. Houma was primarily a ball carrier in high school so the major focus going forward will be shoring up Houma’s blocking skills.

Glimpse of the Future

RB Deveon Smith

H-Back Wyatt Shallman*

*Shallman is projected to play a hybrid RB/FB/TE position.