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Posted on Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Tailback Fitz Toussaint sharpens vision, performance by studying Michigan football greats

By Kyle Meinke


Fitz Toussaint (28), who has earned the role as Michigan's No. 1 tailback, spent plenty of time watching how former Wolverine greats handled the role.

Melanie Maxwell |

Brady Hoke is pinning his hopes on Fitz Toussaint becoming the next great Michigan football running back.

Toussaint hopes to get there by studying previous great Michigan backs.

Last week, Hoke declared the sophomore to be the team's long-sought featured runner. This week, he officially earned that title on the depth chart for the No. 22 Wolverines' game against Illinois on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC).

For the first time this year, there is no "or" separating him from junior Vincent Smith.

Toussaint has steadily separated himself from Smith in recent weeks, and received more than triple the carries the past two games. He had a breakout performance two weeks ago against Purdue, when he had 20 carries for 170 yards.

He said one thing that's helped him make that transition is watching film -- not of himself, not of future opponents, but of former Michigan greats. He's watched scores of tailbacks on YouTube since last year, critiquing them, and borrowing from them.

Toussaint didn't miss a beat when asked who he watches the most.


Fitz Toussaint has studied video of Anthony Thomas (32) during his Michigan playing days.

File photo

"A-Train," he said, referring to Anthony Thomas, who left Michigan in 2000 as the school's all-time leading rusher. Not a bad guy to look up to.

Toussaint said they have varying running styles, but he respects Thomas' hard-running toughness.

Now, he's bringing some of his own.

“He’s a tough guy that makes no concessions to the defense," offensive coordinator Al Borges said last week. "You’re going to have to tackle Fitz. He’s not just going to go down."

Toussaint's vision also has improved, exemplified on a 59-yard touchdown run against Purdue two weeks ago. He wasn't touched on the play thanks to several precise cuts.

How has Toussaint sharpened his vision? More than anything else, watching that old film of Thomas and other Michigan stars, he said.

"He’s really improved in his ability to find the cavities in the defense," Borges said. "When we first got here, his vision wasn’t all it needed to be. But, he’s gotten so much better. Some guys never get that, but Fitz has."

Toussaint said getting more consistent carries in games, as well as practices, has expedited his growth. He said he is more comfortable now than he was earlier in the season, when he was splitting reps with Smith and fighting for his job on a daily basis.

He averaged 18 carries per game the past two weeks. Against Iowa last week, he had 16 carries for 58 yards and caught a 5-yard touchdown pass for Michigan's first score. The Wolverines scored both times Toussaint got more than two carries on a drive.

"I thought he ran it hard," Hoke said. "I couldn’t tell if every cut was the right cut. You’d like to see him accelerate out of a couple of those at times, but I thought he played well."

Toussaint's day was cut short after he aggravated a right shoulder injury that kept him out of the Notre Dame game. He said it's the AC, or acromioclavicular, joint that is ailing him.

It's the third shoulder injury of Toussaint's young career, and second this year. Injuries have become a concern for him.

However, Toussaint said he is fine and doesn't expect to be hampered against Illinois. In fact, Hoke said he could have re-entered the Iowa game, except Michigan was in its hurry-up "NASCAR" offense, which features Smith, not Toussaint.

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



Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 4:42 p.m.

Okay Kids altogether now....... There once was this guy that I know!!! There once was this guy that I know!!! And he said......... Al Borges is really Lloyd Carr in disguise


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

Let us hope Michigan runs the hurry up Nascar offense and scores some points against Illinois. If not we'll likely end up going 0-4 in the last 4 games. 16 carries for 59 yards was indicative of the offense we saw against Iowa. Watching Denard afraid to run was painful.


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

Food for thought on this Tuesday morning.......... Isn't it ironic that MEEEEEEEANchigan is running the NAS-"CARR" offense.


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 7:22 p.m.

I see van Bundte a know-it-all huh? Listen to Edgar Winter's Frankenstien, it will help clarify the issues for you.

David Vande Bunte

Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

Carr's offense was conservative...but he won a heck of a lot of football games, a national championship, multiple Big Ten titles, and sent lots of players to the NFL that way. Oh, he also made sure he devoted at least 20 minutes a week to the defense, unlike your hero. You see, when you have consistently good defenses, you don't need to score 38 points a game to be in a position to win.


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

I heard DAT!! Brother MEAN and Brother Lorraine.......I know Dats right!!! MEEEEEEEEEANchigan football will continue to bleed!! The keys to the crystal lie in the speed!!

Lorain Steelmen

Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 3:33 p.m.

Mean, Maybe that's why we had a 'flat tire'. Carr was never much of an offensensive genious. His idea was always conservative, punt a way, after three downs and let the other team (Tressel at osu) beat us in the fourth quarter.

Lorain Steelmen

Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 2:57 p.m.

DonAZ. I have thought all along, that Fitz was the 'pick of the litter', right now. I like his mental toughness, and his burst, into and out of the hole. To be fair he's a bit small, so he will alwasy be fighting injuries. (His 'mentor'A-Train, took a lot of serious hits, in his career.) At the end of the day, it's not how big you are, its' how big you play, and what you do with the abilities, God gives you. There are three big games, probably four, left this year. We'll need Fitz to have an impact. If UM wins out, they'll look back and say, that they had a great year. 11-2, isn't bad, although title #43, may not be out there anymore, a strong finish will give next year's team a place to stand. Let's assume for a moment, that msu and psu play in Indy. With all the recent revelations from psu, and the ESPN films of the 'dirty plays', by msu in the UM game, the league will have two 'ugly' programs, competing in its first title game. A very sad day for the league.


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

For the moment the Penn State problems are isolated to just Penn State. Based on this morning's news reports it looks like this might be Paterno's undoing, which in one sense is a good thing (he's like Bowden at FSU ... he's hindering the program), but in another sense this is absolutely *not* the kind of departure one would want for an icon like Paterno. This is not a good year for the Big 10 regardless of the PSU or MSU issues. Our hope was that Wisconsin or Nebraska was a legitimate national contender, but neither has proven to be the case. Sadly, the Big 10 championship will likely be a somewhat ho-hum affair, and the outcome will have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the national race. All eyes now on Oklahoma State and Stanford. If they prevail against Oklahoma and Oregon respectively, then we have an interesting cast shaping up for the BCS. If LSU runs the table as does Alabama, I would not be surprised (at all) to see a rematch in the BCS title game. But OSU has to stumble to make that happen.


Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 1:18 p.m.

Let us hope he can stay healthy. I recall Brandon Minor back in 2009 ... when he was healthy he was terrific. But nicked up ... not so terrific. And he seemed to get nicked up a lot. Plus, ya gotta give him props for a cool name. :-)