The running back position is traditionally very deep at Michigan, and nothing has changed heading into 2012. Obviously, the arrest and indefinite suspension of Fitzgerald Toussaint is a huge set back for the Wolverine offense, but there is a still a lot of talent and potential behind him on the depth chart.
Guys like Thomas Rawls, Stephen Hopkins, and Vincent Smith are all looking for their opportunity to make some noise in the back field with this chance to take over the starting position for a portion of the season. Fitz Toussaint was the presumed starter heading into the 2012 season, but, because of his suspension, can not be listed.
Thomas Rawls (Sophomore)
Thomas Rawls is widely considered to be the starter in place of Fitz Toussaint to start the 2012 season. He put together a fantastic spring that caught the attention of coaches and fans, which at that time seemed to solidify himself as the back up. Now, he is likely taking the role of starter against Alabama and will get his first shot on the biggest stage of his life.
As a freshman in 2011, Rawls did not get very many opportunities on the playing field for Michigan. The most action he saw in one game was 10 carries in a blow out win against Minnesota to open up the conference season.
Here are the basic stats for Rawls:
As mentioned above, most of this damage came in one game against Minnesota. He appeared in 2 other games (Eastern Michigan and @Iowa), combining for 6 yards on 3 carries. Those numbers obviously aren't impressive, but Rawls really made a name for himself at Michigan this spring, and the door is wide open for him.
One of Thomas's biggest strengths is his all-around versatility. He has power, speed, agility, everything you look for in a quality back. Wolverines RB coach Fred Jackson said Rawls reminds him a faster Mark Ingram. When your name is mentioned with a Heisman trophy winner, you're doing something right. Jackson is a guy who has been around enough football to know what he's talking about.
Something I am anxious to see with Rawls is how he handles the hype heading into the start of the season. Right now, all he can do is hear about it and read about it then go out onto the practice field to improve himself. Very few will scrutinize a college football player at practice. However, once he gets his opportunities in games with rising pressure, it will be interesting to see how he handles himself.
Vincent Smith (Senior)
Vincent Smith is a veteran in the backfield for the Wolverines. In the beginning of a last year, a lot of people, including myself, thought Smith would ultimately win the starting position at running back for the Wolverines. He seemed to be excelling for first year coach Brady Hoke, and he only had one real challenger for the position. Obviously, Toussaint went on to win that battle and rightfully so. Smith saw his most action in 2010, with 100+ carries and 600+ yards.
Here are the basic stats for Smith:
Vincent Smith reminds me of a classic Michigan running back. He's a hard-nosed kid who loves to play the game and is willing to do anything to help his team win. He really reminds me of a less talented Mike Hart. Smith is a smaller back with a lot of speed but is only affective if he breaks through the first line of the defense. First contact will usually bring him down.
If he can continue to gain his strength and keep the ball off the ground, Vincent Smith could be a very reliable back up for the Wolverines in the 2012 season for as long as needed. He has a lot of upside to his game and can occasionally break away for huge plays.
Stephen Hopkins (Junior)
Stephen Hopkins got a good amount of action during his freshman season, Michigan's last year under Rich Rodriguez. However, his role was really cut back in 2011 in Brady Hoke's first year on the throne. Hopkins never saw more than 5 rushing attempts in a single game. Even when offensive coordinator Al Borges was looking for one, consistent back to carry the load, Hopkins did not get very many opportunities to prove himself.
Here are the basic stats for Hopkins:
In 2010, Hopkins was primarily used as a goal line back or in 3rd and short situations. Still, he was much more productive then than last year because he was given 3 times as many carries. However, after a mid-season injury last year to fullback John McColgan, Hopkins got a shot at fullback and really excelled. It is unlikely he will compete or win the running back position, since he will be very likely playing all of his time at fullback, but he's worth mentioning since he was originally slated to be a running back.