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Posted on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke says Vincent Smith 'has earned' right to be lead tailback

By Kyle Meinke


Vincent Smith will be the lead running back for the Michigan football team Saturday against San Diego State, Brady Hoke said today at a press conference.

Angela J. Cesere |

The Michigan football team's ever-revolving tailback position has taken another turn.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday at his weekly news conference that Vincent Smith is the leader to be the Wolverines' lead back for this week's game against San Diego State.

"I think Vince probably right now has earned that right with his performance and production," Hoke said.

Smith ran nine times for 118 yards in Michigan's 31-3 win Saturday against Eastern Michigan, and was the team's only consistent tailback. All of the other backs combined for 60 yards.

If Smith starts Saturday, he will become the third starting tailback in four games for Michigan (3-0). Sophomore Fitz Toussaint got the call in Week 1 after a fierce competition that lasted until the night before the opener, then senior Michael Shaw earned the start in Week 2 with Toussaint hurt (although Stephen Hopkins got more carries and snaps).

Toussaint started against Eastern Michigan.

Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have been reluctant to use a tailback-by-committee approach, yet Michigan still has considerable fluidity at that position as the conference season approaches.

"Neither one of us wants it that way, but I think we're there at this point in time," Hoke said.

Hoke said he was pleased with Smith's vision against Eastern Michigan, and he is considered the team's best blocking back — despite his diminutive stature. He stands 5-foot-6, 172 pounds.

"A lot of times, you'll see running backs take a short cut and go at the knees, but he'll actually get down, pop up and hit a guy on the chin," senior center David Molk said. "You don't see it until you watch the film, but when you see that on film with a guy that's so undersized, manning up and taking on anything that comes, it's really great to see."

Is Hoke concerned about Smith's lack of size in a lead-back role?

"He might be smaller, but he's put together," Hoke said. "He's a rock. … His mentality is that of a tough guy."

Smith has 12 carries for 132 yards this year, and also two catches for 26 yards and one touchdown — a score that gave Michigan its first lead in its comeback win against Notre Dame in Week 2.

He had 136 carries for 601 yards and five touchdowns last year.

Smith also has been the team's primary kick returner this year, averaging 18.4 yards per attempt. Hoke said he likely would continue to return kicks, even if he becomes the long-term starter at tailback.

"At the end of the day, you have to make sure your best players are on the field, and he's one of our best players," Hoke said.

Hoke said he also was pleased with Toussaint, who had 11 carries for 46 yards and one touchdown as the starter against Eastern Michigan. The sophomore also started against Western Michigan, but hurt his shoulder in that game and did not play the following week against Notre Dame.

Shaw was introduced as the starter against the Irish, although it was Hopkins who led the team in carries (five) and yards (8).

The only constant in the running game has been junior quarterback Denard Robinson. He had 26 carries for 198 yards against Eastern Michigan and leads the team in rushes (50) and yards (352).

Hoke said he wanted to use a tailback more this year to take some pressure and wear and tear off Robinson, and that remains the case.

"We still don't want to run Denard 26 times a game," Hoke said. "That's a good way to get him beat up and hurt. We've got to keep plugging away. I thought Vince's production, Fitz gave us some good runs in there and took a little bit of the load off him. We have to make sure we're a healthy football team as we continue forward."

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



Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 2:25 a.m.

I like Smith a lot and I'm very happy with how he's progressed from the knee injury. The kid is tough as nails and you can tell he just loves to play football. But I agree with GoBlueinNE_PA that Toussaint is the best weapon in the backfield besides Denard. We need power and speed and he has both


Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

I know I'm in the minority here, but I still think Toussaint is our best option as a lead tail back. I like Smith and think he's exactly what we want in a 3rd down back, but there are reasons that small backs don't carry the load for major programs. Their bodies just can't stand up to the pounding. Even a guy like Jaquiz Rogers split time. I know I know "What about Mike Hart?". Does anyone really think Vince Smith is the next Mike Hart? I didn't think so. And it's not like Hart didn't get beat up himself over the course of the season's he was here. How many times did he go into the OSU game really healthy? Once? In order to take the load off of DRob, we need to line up in the pro set and make a real effort to run the ball. We have NOT done that so far this year, despite what we were told would happen. We've run a spread for 90%+ of time and the results look practically identical to last year's. We've actually had some success running from a power formation, heck we had success with it during it's limited use under RichRod. Hoke needs to make a commitment and stick to it, if not this week against SDSU then against Minnesota. Start running some play action passes out of that look once the defense puts the 8 and 9 men in the box. DRob won't last the season if we continue down our current path.


Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 4:01 p.m.

I also agree with this move. Smith is just so much better at hitting the hole. I cannot understand why Fitz and shaw seem to hesitate when a hole opens up in the O-line. Smith can also make a guy miss in space. No, he isn't going to run through contact all that often, but if you can avoid it in the first place... I just worry about him repeatedly getting guys nearly twice his size landing on him when B1G season starts.


Tue, Sep 20, 2011 : 2:17 p.m.

Vince should be given the chance to start after his performances agains ND and Eastern.


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 10:45 p.m.

I agree with Rensational, I too thought that VSmith would be the starter at the beginning of the year. Smith is a good well rounded running back ( vision, hitting the hole, acceleration, making defenders miss, blocking/pass protection and receiver ), I think his size did not match up to what the coaches were looking for in a back, but it's not 3 more inches and 20 more pounds that makes a good running back, it's the fore mentioned attributes. Last year in the read option, DR would read the backers and keep the ball himself, so that limited the touches Smith had, and when he did receive the ball he did fairly well. With more designed runs ( not options ) for him, I think he'll be very productive. UM have the pieces; a play maker at QB, an all purpose back ( Smith ), power back ( Toussaint ), two good receivers ( Hemmingway and Roundtree ) and a decent OL. The coaches just have to put it together, and they will. The offensive personnel is different than what they wanted, but that doesn't mean that their not good. It's not often a team have an athlete like DR, we have to play to his and the teams' strength and not look at this as a rebuilding year but adjusting. Borges is a good OC, he'll put it together.


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 9:04 p.m.

It seemed for awhile that smith was getting buried on the depth chart. But this goes to show that Hoke isnt going to be stubborn and avoid smith despite his size and spread offense skill set. He looked good against Eastern, and it would be great to see him move forward and keep playing well. I dont care who the lead back is anymore, someone just needs to step up and consistently pick up yards from the RB position.


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

I have absolutely thought Smith should be the starting tailback since at least last year. He has really been the only productive back since Minor and Brown left (as much as he could be with Denard expected to run under RR's system and RBs being de-emphasized until now), and we need a running game something awful--especially when we get into conference play. I see Michigan being alright with Smith as the main back, Toussant on short yardage and goal line situations, Denard carrying SOME, and the coaching staff trying to help Denard with his pass accuracy, reads and such. We have to be able to run the ball with someone other than Denard, and the only time I feel like that's a possibility is when Smith is out there. He's got a bit of that SEC speed, being from Florida. And he can catch, too? Just a no-brainer all along. The Big Ten is down this year, and Michigan is currently thought to be the 3rd or 4th best team in the conference with MSU and OSU BENEATH us--gotta take advantage and find ways to beat these teams, FINALLY. Clearly, we can't win with Denard doing it all.


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 8:09 p.m.

I for one am very glad to read this. Vincent Smith has been one of the better players this short season and he has impressed me with his ability, team attitude and perseverance. Yes, we know this is a rebuilding year(s) but he still has the capability of breaking plays and using his speed and elusiveness to make gains. He has talent in both the running and passing game. I am glad Coach Hoke realized it and is doing the right thing Go Blue


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 7:40 p.m.

It's a darn good thing this is not year 3 on Brady's contract. I for one have always believed this process Brady has started, to restructure our Wolverines will take 2-4 years a minimum of 3 years. I came to the conclusion of 3 years minimum after looking at the 2012 schedule. I'm fine with that but I do feel bad for the Mich. faithful in poor health or senior citizens of old age that have suffered through the many humiliating defeats at the hands of the notorius Jim Tressel. Some of those folks will never enjoy another great Mich. wolverine team again if this thing doesn't get turned around sooner rather than later. It sounds to me like Brady is just settling for position players rather than those players actually being great at their positions. I have a mind set this year to just consider this year the foundation of a 2-4 year process probably 3 years. I fly my Mich. flag, I barbecu and after that debacle of a game Mich and Notre Dame I don't allow any anxiety=stress over our poor play. I think if people realize that this 2011 team is a spread conditioned team both physically and mentally then I think fans will appreciate the uphill climb Brady has trying to change Everything.


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 8:53 p.m.

"It sounds to me like Brady is just settling for position players rather than those players actually being great at their positions." By that do you mean he's "settling" in his recruiting for the future? Or "settling" with whatever talent he has presently?


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 8:05 p.m.



Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 7:10 p.m.

I wish him well. But PLEASE protect the ball better than it appears you are in that photo! :-)


Mon, Sep 19, 2011 : 10 p.m.

I would venture to say that the photographer captured the picture immediately after the KO was received.