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Posted on Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 10:41 p.m.

Is Michigan's Vincent Smith too small to be a lead tailback? Offensive coordinator Al Borges thinks not

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan offensive coordinator on Vincent Smith, above: "If he was 200-something pounds, he'd really be something. But he does a good job with his size, does everything he can with what he has." file photo

Vincent Smith is 5-foot-6, 172 pounds. He'll never be mistaken for the downhill, between-the-tackles runner the Michigan football coaching staff prefers.

But, he does have one thing they're seeking.

"This game is about production, not potential," offensive coordinator Al Borges said after the team's practice Tuesday. "If a guy is smaller, but produces, you got to find a way to let him play.

"Vince has been producing."

Smith had nine carries for 118 yards in a win over Eastern Michigan last Saturday, the best performance of the season by a Wolverines tailback. Coach Brady Hoke said on Monday that Smith "has earned that right" to start this week against San Diego State.


Come back to at noon Thursday for a live chat with Kyle Meinke. He'll recap the Wolverines' win over Eastern Michigan, discuss news that emerged this week and preview the game against San Diego State on Saturday.
Neither is concerned about Smith's size.

"I want a guy who is 220 pounds and runs 4-nothing (40-yard dash), but those aren't falling out of trees these days," Borges said. "You take what you can get.

"If he was 200-something pounds, he'd really be something. But he does a good job with his size, does everything he can with what he has."

Smith's 100-yard game was the first by a Michigan back since Michael Shaw ran for 126 against Massachusetts in the third game of the 2010 season.

Was there a moment when Smith felt like he was turning the corner against Eastern Michigan?

"No, it was just me getting into a rhythm," he said. "I was just taking what the defense (gave) me and not trying to do anything too big."

Borges credited the running threat of quarterback Denard Robinson for some of Smith's success against Eastern Michigan.

"(Robinson) started running the ball and the awareness levels of him running the ball heightened," Borges said. "Because of the nature of the spread offense, and what we do within it, they're forced to defend him, which takes the attention, a lot of time, off the running backs — and in this case, it was Vince.

"He's a complete football player. He does so many things well."

Despite Smith's big day, and Hoke's proclamation that he'd earned a starting spot, Borges isn't yet ready to hand over the position. When will he be?

"(Not) until someone steps to the forefront and establishes himself as that guy," Borges said. "We're not going to just name a guy to name a guy. That'd be absurd."

One reason could be Borges remains high on sophomore Fitz Toussaint, who started against Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan. He missed the Notre Dame game in between with an injured shoulder.

"He's a tough guy, he's relentless, he's not afraid of the defense, he makes no concessions to the defense," Borges said. "He has pieces of his game that still need improvement, but he's going to give all he's got."

Borges also said freshman Thomas Rawls, who debuted against Eastern Michigan with two carries for 4 yards, could receive more snaps in future weeks.

"He's a talented kid we need to find out more about," Borges said. "I've said it in the beginning: If it's a freshman that's the best back, so be it, but we're never going to find out unless we put him in the game and find out."

Wile not feeling any family conflict

Michigan freshman kicker Matt Wile said the game against San Diego State on Saturday may be difficult for his father, but for him it'll be just another football game.


Matt Wile

Wile's father, Peter Wile, served as the Aztecs' team physician while Hoke coached there the past two years, but recently stepped down to watch his son kick for Michigan.

"I'm sure it may be hard for my dad," said Wile, a San Diego native. "But for me, Michigan's my team.

"I like that (the game) is in the Big House. That's my home stadium."

The first-year Wolverines kicker said Peter Wile, who attended medical school at Michigan, has attended each of the Wolverines' three games, during which time Matt Wile has punted and kicked off.

The freshman said he thought his punting was "mediocre at best" last week against Eastern Michigan and that the return of suspended punter Will Hagerup prior to the Oct. 1 game against Minnesota will push him to improve.

"Will, throughout camp and these last few weeks, has been helping me a lot," Wile said. "He's really been the main reason I've been able to get more comfortable. All I know is that I'm going to keep competing. Whoever the best man is will play, and whatever makes us better is all I'm worried about."

Asked how his placekicking was coming along, the freshman said his recent long in practice was a 59-yard field goal.

Mattison: Emotions won't be a factor

Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison knows what it's like to be in the spot Hoke and five assistants will be in Saturday when they battle their former team, San Diego State.

When Mattison left Michigan for Notre Dame before the 1997 season, he had to face his former employer in the Irish's fourth game of the season.

He said he doesn't recall much about that game, which was a 21-14 Michigan win, but does know Hoke won't have mixed emotions this weekend against the Aztecs.

Neither will Borges, special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno, offensive line coach Darrell Funk, wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski nor linebackers coach Mark Smith, Mattison said.

"Those guys gave so much to that (San Diego State) program when they were there, worked so hard and turned that thing around, so you have to know that there is a feeling in there (that remembers SDSU)," Mattison said. "But this is also a profession. And when (Michigan athletic director) David Brandon is your boss and he's the guy that you answer to, then you better make sure that when the time comes you're coaching for (Michigan). … And this group will automatically.

"If anything, whenever you compete against someone you respect, you want to do the very, very best job you can. … And I'm sure that's the case with them."

Raymon Taylor progressing

Freshman defensive back Raymon Taylor saw his first action of the season against Eastern Michigan, and Mattison said the Detroit native showed plenty of good things.

And some bad, as well.

"I thought he showed he could cover, I thought he really showed the athleticism we knew he had and I think he showed (that he's still a freshman) with that stupid (personal foul) penalty," Mattison said. "Again, there's another example of a guy that's out there trying to survive, trying to do anything he can. ... But I thought he did a nice job in there."

Mattison said Taylor was put in against EMU over sophomore Courtney Avery because Avery had never played the nickel back position, and that Taylor has the speed and athleticism to play that spot.

Odds and ends

Although Borges uses the same system and terminology from when he was at San Diego State, he said he does not employ the same signs. ... Mattison said he was impressed with how freshman strong-side linebacker Brennan Beyer bounced back after struggling earlier this season. He played well against Eastern Michigan, recorded one tackle and could see more time. reporter Nick Baumgardner contributed to this story.

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



Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 4:19 p.m.

Smith's got all the heart and speed in the world. Another 15 lbs. and he'd be a terror.


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 6:05 a.m.

Gametime production is always greater than vital statistics. So if Vince Smith who is 5'6" - 175lbs. is the "biggest" performer in the lot, then by all means play him. If he outperforms bigger backs, then give him more plays. Now, if his frame is not durable enough in the long season then replace him with someone else who will outperform him. Multiple RB's with deep game experience is always a luxury. Play Gardner also! You need an experienced backup at QB!


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 7:59 p.m.

I'm in 100% alignment with Lorain on this one. I like Vince Smith A LOT, but that size will NOT stand up to the grind of being the #1 tail back in a Big 10 offense. It's simple physics. The impact delivered by players that will all be heavier than he is, even the CB's and Safety's, will have a cumulative effect on his body. Folks like to bring up Hart and Morris and say, "See these guys did it". You can't really compare them to Smith though. While both were short in stature, they were also big bodies for their size. They both could run through tackles. The next time I see Smith move the pile will be the first time I've seen it. He's a great kid and as 3rd down back he's exactly what you want, but expecting him to handle the load at running back is unrealistic. If DRob can't handle it, and he's bigger, why would expect Vince to? I keep hoping to see Toussaint have the truly break out performance where he finally starts seeing the holes, making the cuts, running over people at the line and running away from them when in the open. Physically, he appears to have all the tools, but whether due to injury, lack of PT before this season, lack of desire, or maybe he just doesn't get it, he hasn't made that leap. Maybe he never will. I get to see up close and personal this weekend, so I'm hoping for some explosive plays


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 7:07 p.m.

"Vincent Smith is 5-foot-6, 172 pounds." Stats like those are notoriously overstated. I wonder if Smith is actually something less? Denard is listed at 6' and 190 but everything I see and read seems to indicate that 190 pounds is soaking wet.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:45 p.m.

Wile kicked a 59 yarder?!?>! Even just in practice, that's pretty amazing. I love Smith's running style and he has looked great so far. But I will be amazed if he can withstand 300+ lb guys crushing him game after game in the B1G season. 170 lbs... I mean, c'mon. Mike Hart was 200. That extra 30 lbs goes a long way in terms of leg strength and running through contact.

Lorain Steelmen

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 3:21 p.m.

Is Vincent Smith, too small to a lead back. Answer...YES. Hart and Morris may have been short, but were a bit heavier. Smith will get destroyed when we hit the big ten. (Recall Mike Hart missed essentially two seasons with injuries.........had he satyed healthy, he would have been the top back in big ten history.) Second question, Is Smith the best back to be the ''lead back. Answer...NO, not as long as Fits Toussant (sp ) stays healthy. Third question, Will Smith contribute? Answer...yes, in spots, because he has great 'heart'. I like this kid. But I like Toussant as well. Together they will have to shoulder the one else will step forward this year.

Matt Patercsak

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 12:14 p.m.

im happy that Thomas rawls got some reps. but i thought he was misused. his first rep was a zone read and denard kept it. his second rep was out of the gun with no lead blocking and he tripped over his o-lines foot. his third rep was another zone read but he broke a tackle and was spun down for a gain of 4 yards. his 4th rep he absolutely hammered a defender clearing the way for gardner. he needs to be put in when the qb is under center and with a lead blocker to truly see what he can do. an off tackle power, lead toss or dive should be his bread and butter. denard robinson is not a dual threat quarterback. he is a single threat qb who can pass on occasion. why not run a 1 formation nebraska option? doesnt that employ pro style power schemes? while utilizing a running qb?


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 11:45 a.m.

old time rule of thumb for height required of running backs----'as long as his feet touch the ground'. PLUS smith is a valuable blocker


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 11:43 a.m.

I remember that Mike Hart was nobodies first pick, Smith got the ,yards what can you say. Denard made it hard on the defense However, last Saturday when he would hold the ball on Vincent's chest , and either give him the ball or pull it back and run.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:42 p.m.

yeeeeeah, but Mike Hart also weighed a good bit more and could run through contact as a result.

Bruce Kennedy

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 4:46 a.m.

"Is Michigan's Vincent Smith too small to be a lead tailback? " I'm sure they said the same thing about Jamie Morris.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 11:24 a.m.

..and Mike Hart, too. Mike was blockier and the first tackler almost never brought him down, but Vincent's shiftier and appears to be developing into a pretty tough inside runner.