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Posted on Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Brady Hoke breaks down Michigan's tailback options if Fitz Toussaint misses time

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan sophomore tailback Thomas Rawls, shown fighting for yardage in the team's spring game, has been praised for his toughness. Now, he might be called upon to use it in the season opener.

Melanie Maxwell |

It took the Michigan football team an entire offseason, then three-quarters of the season itself, to find a lead tailback last year.

Now, it might have to retrace those steps.

Fitz Toussaint won the derby to be Michigan's featured tailback, but his status for this year's opener against Alabama is unknown after he was arrested a week ago on a drunken-driving charge.

He has yet to be cleared to practice when Michigan opens camp in a week.

Coach Brady Hoke said he would make determinations on both accounts "down the road."

So, what is the contingency plan if Toussaint isn't available Sept. 1?

The leading candidates appear to be sophomore Thomas Rawls and senior Vincent Smith, and likely in that order. But each brings something to the table, and it's not out of the question they share snaps if Toussaint misses time.

Rawls is a sophomore from Flint who has been lauded profusely since arriving on campus last year. He received only 13 carries as a freshman, 10 of which came in the 58-0 blowout of Minnesota, but showcased his toughness in the spring game.

He scored Michigan's only two touchdowns of the day, making him the game's biggest surprise.

"I actually didn't know the guy could run like that until I saw him this spring," left tackle Taylor Lewan said last week at Big Ten media days in Chicago. "He runs angry, he runs mean and he runs fast. And I feel like you should do that, if you play running back, so I like that.

"I guess you could say a light came on."

Asked to describe Rawls' running style, Hoke simply said he's "hard to tackle. I wish I could really describe it more so, but he’s hard to tackle. He’s got some strength to him, and I think his vision’s good."

But Rawls will be pushed for duties by Smith, who was Michigan's second-best tailback last year at 50 carries for 298 yards. The senior has logged 234 career carries, which makes him the team's most experienced back.

Hoke says he's "pound for pound" Michigan's toughest player, which makes him a force as a blocker.

"Smitty is one of those guys who can do about anything for ya, and he does a tremendous job," Hoke said.

Hoke made it clear either Rawls or Smith -- or both -- could earn Toussaint's snaps if the starter's a no-go against Alabama, but coordinator Al Borges said in the spring he sees Smith more as a third-down back, not an every-down back.

Rawls is considered a more forceful runner, which Michigan will need to complement quarterback Denard Robinson against the Crimson Tide's reigning No. 1-ranked rush defense.

"Vince plays a different role -- he's kind of a slash number, if that makes any sense to you," Borges said in the spring. "He'll come in the game and carry the ball a little bit, but he's situationally in the game a lot. Just as you'd put a third wide receiver in the game to replace a tight end, Vince goes into the game on third down.

"That doesn't fit as much into our first-down (scheme) as much as I'm talking about."

So, it comes down to whether Michigan wants to go with the less-experienced Rawls, who is a more capable runner, or the more-experienced Smith, whose potential is more limited.

Freshman Justice Hayes also is in the mix after redshirting last year, but Hoke said "he's probably the guy I want to see a little more out of still."

Hoke said he likes the athleticism of true freshmen Drake Johnson and Dennis Norfleet, but is waiting to see them in fall camp before making determinations.

That camp opens in seven days, and it appears there could be more jostling at tailback than first believed.

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Thu, Aug 2, 2012 : 4:37 a.m.

Whoever carries the ball, I just hope they hold on to it! Fitz was pretty dependable... Not perfect, but reliable.

Steve McQueen

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 6:22 a.m.

Rawls....being the more physical runner, is a better option for Michigan than Fitz, for the Bama opener. He will break 100 vs. the tide. Mark it down.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 6:53 a.m.

I'd argue that a shifty runner would do better against the monsters Alabama has on the d-line than a bruiser.

Matt Patercsak

Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 8:26 p.m.

I hope rawls takes the starting job and keeps it. He's the most physical runner Michigan has had in years, been rooting for him since he committed.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 1:14 a.m.

I hope you learn to stop rooting against Michigan players just because a coach you don't like recruited them.


Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 7:50 p.m.

What if Fitz Toussaint voluntarily removed himself from Walter Camp consideration, spent 10 hours a week volunteering with an organization for children of alchohol abuse parents, submitted himself to a DUI, alcohol awareness program, and donated 5-10% of his signing bonus to some kind of related charity. Could he play football then? Why does every punishment have to be playing-time related? There are plenty of other options...


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 1:13 a.m.

Because the point of punishment isn't to hurt him, it's to teach him a lesson for the future. Taking away the Alabama game (and maybe more) is the best way to do that for HIS sake.


Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 4:49 p.m.

Fitz Toussaint isn't the only Big Ten player with problems concerning law enforcement... Brionte Dunn (Ohio State) got caught with marijuana in his car. College football stars sure have a hard time escaping the temptations of the devil. Once again the forbidden leaf got puffed on by a foolish teen in search of the ultimate buzz. Now I'm glad Michigan lost out on Dunn last year.

Steve McQueen

Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 6:24 a.m.

It happens to every program Bitty.... as you know. And honestly, when I was a college student, everyone was getting tanked and also smoking bud on the weekends. It just is how it is...Id say 80 percent or more of college students get loaded sometimes. Im not saying it is right, but certainly it is not relegated to only athletes doing it. That said, athletes have to learn that they have much more of a public image to uphold than the typical student.


Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

Fitz WILL play against 'bama! Look for the coaches and Daveyboy to slow play this thing. He'll get "dinged up" vs bama and sit the whole game v Airfoce as punishment.


Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.



Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

Wish the NCAA would adopt a rule, any guy on scholarship who commits a felony loses his scholarship and no one else can offer him one for two years. Fritz and Frank can go home and live with mom.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 1:11 a.m.

My brother-in-law is a cop. One night while we were drinking at my place we busted out the hardware to see what our BAL was after 1 drink, 2 drinks, etc. 3 drinks in we were 0.13 and 0.14, and I myself could barely tell I'd been drinking. As horrible as the whole idea of drunk driving sounds, it's not always malicious You almost have to adopt a zero-tolerance policy if you actually want to stay within the law. That's why first offense DUI's tend to have such soft penalties compared to repeat offenses.


Tue, Jul 31, 2012 : 12:48 a.m.

I read that he blew .08 at the scene, and .12 when re-tested at the police station.


Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 5:06 p.m.

Yep I stand corrected, I was fairly sure the first article by said he blew a .08 but maybe it said he blew ABOVE a .08. Regardless I don't believe it is a felony either way.. definitely stupid though.


Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 3:51 p.m.

No, he blew a 0.12, as reported in the original article. And he blew that .12 down at the police station, so it wasn't like he just took a sip and hopped in the car.

Joshua Nagelkerke

Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 2:34 p.m.

StopCrying - where did you see what he blew? Just curious.


Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

He blew a .08...the legal limit. Hardly a felony.


Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

Toussaints crime was not a felony DUI


Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 11:24 a.m.

Thank God, we have plenty of depth in the backfield! I trust that Hoke and Borges will get the best combo ready for the opener!


Mon, Jul 30, 2012 : 9:17 p.m.

Hopefully it won't take an entire off season and 3/4 of the regular season to find out.