RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, arrested and indefinitely suspended
As reported earlier this week, starting RB Fitzgerald Toussaint was arrested this past Saturday night on a DUI charge. There were multiple questions up in the air immediately, but coach Brady Hoke cleared some of the fog for us with this statement on Toussaint:
"Fitz made a poor decision and has been suspended indefinitely because of that action. There are expectations that come with being a football student-athlete at the University of Michigan and those responsibilities were not met in this instance. We will use this as an opportunity to educate Fitz and make sure he understands the high standards that we have established within our program."
"Suspended indefinitely" could mean anything from zero games missed to an entire season. This is Toussaint's first offense, so most are not expecting the most drastic of measures, but it can't be shoved out of the picture just yet. Brady Hoke has held to his word of keeping a strong amount of integrity within the program. As he puts it, "This is Michigan, for God's sake."
I have a really hard time seeing Hoke keeping Fitz Toussaint off the team for the entire season for a couple of reasons. First of all, Hoke does have a lot of compassion for his players. He is deeply involved with his team, as any head coach should be, and he understands that mistakes are part of life. Second of all, this is Toussaint's first offense. Other than this DUI, Fitz has a clean slate to his name. In the case of former Michigan WR Darryl Stonum, he was released after his second offense of violation of team rules.
With that said, I also have a very hard time imagining Hoke lets off his star RB with zero games missed. The number one overlooked aspect in the punishment situations, whether for an individual player or for an entire university, is that the proceeding actions need to also send a strong message to the rest of the team. This isn't just about punishing Toussaint; it's also about letting the rest of the team know that they won't be let off the hook so easily.
That is why I think Brady Hoke will suspend Toussaint for 3-4 games. That either brings him back against UMass (3 games) or for Notre Dame (4 games). Obviously, it would be great to have Fitz back for a huge game against the Irish, but I don't believe Hoke will be adjusting suspension time to the matchup on the field.
The next question that is being naturally brought up, following the arrest of Toussaint, is who will replace him in the backfield. Luckily, the Wolverines are in no drought when it comes to RB talent, but it is also obvious that this offense is best with Fitz in the backfield. Offensive Coordinator Al Borges would love to have a premier back who can take the ball 20-25 times per game, but there isn't another RB on the roster that has proven he can do that.
Senior Vincent Smith saw some decent action in the beginning of the season, and there were some people who thought he would eventually break loose from the rest of the competition and take that starting spot. However, as Toussaint became more and more reliable, Smith saw less and less time on the field. Eventually, he was cut down to 3rd downs and very minimal opportunities, only getting three rushing attempts in Michigan's final four games.
Justice Hayes is considered to be another candidate for the job. Hayes, a redshirt last year, is a very highly touted RB out of Flint, Michigan who is looking for his first piece of action in a winged helmet. Coaches Brady Hoke and Al Borges were very please with the spring Hayes put together, both saying he has a lot of up-side to his game and a clear advantage in receiving the ball out of the backfield. His clear rushing ability is still a little bit of a question at this point, but Hayes will likely get his fair share of opportunities to prove himself on the field once the season begins.
Sophomore Thomas Rawls is considered to be the leading candidate to take over the backfield in Toussaint's absence. Rawls saw most of his action last year in a 58-0 blow out of Minnesota, where he picked up 73 yards on 10 carries. Other than that game, he was only given 3 other rushing attempts, none after the Purdue game. Rawls was dubbed the "star" of Michigan's 2012 spring game by most of the media, and RB coach Fred Jackson took a bold stand for his player, saying, "He's like Mark Ingram, but faster." The coaching staff is very excited about their young talent, as they should be. Of course, if he steps into the starting role as assumed, he will be making his first start in the biggest atmosphere of his life: Arlington, Texas versus Alabama.