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Posted on Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

Michigan freshmen tailbacks Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes may get first action against EMU

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan freshman running back Thomas Rawls (38) could see his first game action this week against Eastern Michigan.

Melanie Maxwell I

Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson created a buzz at the team's media day last month when he likened freshman running back Thomas Rawls to Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.

After two games, Rawls has not seen field, nor has fellow freshman Justice Hayes.

Could that change Saturday against Eastern Michigan (Noon, BTN)?

"Maybe," coach Brady Hoke said Wednesday before practice. "Depending on where we get, they may play."

The Wolverines (2-0) are trying to get their running backs going after they combined for just eight carries and 10 yards in last week's win against Notre Dame.


Come back to at noon Thursday for a live chat with Kyle Meinke. He'll recap the Wolverines' wild win over Notre Dame, discuss news that emerged this week and preview the game against Eastern Michigan on Saturday.
Sophomore Fitz Toussaint is entrenched as the starter and played well in the opener against Western Michigan, but sat out against the Irish with a shoulder injury. His replacements had little impact.

Sophomore Stephen Hopkins led the way with five carries for 8 yards, junior Vincent Smith had one carry for 3 yards and senior Michael Shaw had two carries for minus-3 yards.

Rawls and Hayes might get their shots against Eastern Michigan, which is 2-0 but struggled to beat FCS-member Alabama State last week.

(Take our poll: Who will be the leading rusher on Saturday?)

Hoke now has a better grasp of what they can do after evaluating them since the start of the preseason five weeks ago. Neither enrolled in time for spring camp, which set them back during the tailback competition in fall camp.

"I think Rawls is a strong runner," Hoke said. "He's got good vision and pretty good balance. He's got a pretty good burst. Justice is a guy who has great quickness, catches the ball well. He's doing a lot of things for us on our look team, sometimes lining up at wideout just because of numbers. He's maturing."

Rawls is a 5-foot-10, 220-pound downhill tailback from Flint, which also is Ingram's hometown. He went on to star at Alabama.

Hayes, who is 5-10, 175 pounds, is a smaller, shiftier back from Grand Blanc.

"He’s not a pile-driving guy," Jackson said last month. "He’s a guy who if he were in a phone booth, he’d probably make you miss. He’s got great quickness."

Offensive coordinator Al Borges said recently it was possible one of the freshmen running backs could be redshirted. If both play against the Eagles, that would become unlikely.

"We're not going to be afraid to play freshmen," Hoke said, referring to any position. "The best players have to play. If they're the best, they'll play."

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



Fri, Sep 16, 2011 : 2:06 a.m.

i'am on-board. . . play rawls, hayes and gardner this saturday! lets get this party started! GO BLUE!!!


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 4:55 p.m.

I'm getting so tired of hearing people say we shouldn't burn someone's eligibility, I say who cares! What are we saving these guys for? If these guys are good enough, they wouldn't stay in school for a possible 5th year anyway. Especially now with the rookie salary cap in the NFL. The 2nd contract is the big carrot now in that league, players are going to figure that out real soon and will want to get to that 2nd contract asap. Play guys right away if they're good enough, quit worrying about down the road, we will recruit players every year. Hoke and staff have shown how great of a recruiter's they are, I'm sure we'll be getting great players every year. I want to win now and the future, play the best players, please. Go Blue!!!


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 3:05 p.m.

I think T.Rawls is the Tail back of the future for Michigan, if you watch his video's you can see why Fred Sr. compares him to Ingram Jr. He's a prototypical Michigan back, with his size 220lbs plus,"he's a strong runner Brady said",he doesn't come down easy,and dangerous in the open field specially against a smaller Dback.. If our current backs don't step up soon here,we could see more of T.Rawls .. Hayes would be a good kick return guy,he has that extra level speed. Lets face it the current backs are somebody else's recruits , Shaw was Carr's, rest were whatcha ma callit's recruits. so Rawl's and Hayes will be future backs if they step up.. GO BLUE..


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 4:46 p.m.

I agree that Rawls has alot of potential ... would love to see him become a star at Michigan.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 12:20 p.m.

Do not play those 2 if the others will play later on in the season. I mean do not waste their eligibility if they are going to play a few minutes for the whole season just like what happened to Gardner. If they are good to start then by all means but let the older backs do all the work if the freshmen are just going to waste eligibility.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

A tailback/running back is a position that does not require a few years of masturation like an DL, safety, corner or even QB positions. It seems to be that a great running back will be akin to Mike Hart, who has a great field of vision and ball control. I have seen a large number of Freshman tailbacks in FBS make the big splash. Given the ability of Brady Hoke to attrack top recruits at all positions, it seems we will only be reloading in a few years. If Rawls and Hayes are looking real good in practice, PLAY 'EM. Haste makes waste.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 6:55 a.m.

I'm concerned that this decision is because Toussaint is more seriously injured. Shoulders take a long time to heal, and if this is a re-injury of what kept him out almost all of 2010, he could be done. Otherwise, no sense burning a year on someone who will only see action against EMU when the score is 35-3.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 6:44 a.m.

Id love to see Rawls. I like Fitz a lot, but his durability has always been a problem, and having Rawls get some carries and get into the mix could be beneficial in case Fitz goes down. He's the kind of back that UM should have to run a Power offense. Hopefully he gets an opportunity and makes a case for more playing time later. Hayes could fill the role that Smith does down the road. Ive always liked having a quick 3rd down back to catch balls on screens and check downs. They seem to both have potential, because Fred seems high on them, and that guy knows RBs. This game should help UM out a lot right now as far as getting another week under the new system, and getting comfortable. I want to see the defense really step up this week. Theres no reason Eastern should be able to consistently move the ball.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 2:49 a.m.

Bottom line -- I trust these guys (Hoke, Borges, Mattison) ... I tend to accept what they say they need to do. Until they prove untrustworthy, they're the CIA of Michigan football. 'Nuff said.

Matt Patercsak

Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 11:34 p.m.

Yes! I want to see Rawls run the ball so bad. I have the utmost optimism for him and think if his running style matches his body type (ideal for a tailback) he could embody our offense in the future. I could be wrong, but i would rather be proved wrong by watching him against an eastern michigan defense perform poorly than leave my mind to speculate as to why he isnt getting the reps. Its good that fitz has stepped up, given hes only a sophomore. but a nasty one two punch could be made out of someone who looks like rawls and someone who runs like fitz.(cadillac and ronnie?) hopkins is not that good. he has no feet and in all the footage ive seen of practice and games, he hasnt really run anyone over with authority, contradicting his big frame. the only back Ive been impressed with thus far has been the FULLBACK John Mccolgan!!! hes the man! im so glad Michigan is employing fullbacks again. i wonder what it would have been like if denard would have hit him on that wheel route... anyways i digress. Play Thomas rawls, score on the first 3 possessions then put rawls in with the first team O-Line. I formation, off tackle power behind mccolgan. man, that would settle so much of my frequent freep, ann arbor and google searches. whos with me!!! haha...


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 1:11 a.m.

I'm with you on Rawls. Not sure about letting Hayes going red-shirt to get bigger. Imagine Denard, Rawls and Hayes in the same backfield. Go Blue!


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 10:21 p.m.

It's now or never for Rawls and Hayes. If they don't get playing time in the next two games, definitely redshirt them. Waiting until after the B1G season starts for them to get their first game action would be a waste, in my opinion. Unless, of course, everyone else is wiped out by injuries. Significantly absent from any RB discussion is Michael Cox. He doesn't appear to be injured. He's a redshirt JR who probably won't be invited back for his fifth year. I think we're going to see a lot more of that under the new regime, and there's nothing wrong with it. I think the day of the automatic fifth year senior status at UM is over. Commits are still allowed to stick around for four years (barring any disciplinary matters) and get their degrees, but if you're not contributing on the field...


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 10:06 p.m.

Great to see our coaches are weighing their options. The "it's only two games" arguement will not work because it has been three seasons, now 4 since Mike Hart was a true impact running back. Let's see Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes. I'd bet, they'll be electric. It seems our coaches have the same feeling about making changes. Rawls and Hayes must doing well enough in practice to warrent serious consideration to play. I would love to see one of them play well enough to be awarded a starting position. The running game has been and will be inconsistent all season long and we cannot risk injury to Denard if we rely on him to pick up the slack.


Thu, Sep 15, 2011 : 8:28 a.m.

I think Rawls might be physically ready for Big10 games, I think Hayes isn't. Especially the last 4 games. And that's when UM needs them. I would like to see if Rawls is, very much. Hays, this year, probably isn't an upgrade over the upperclassmen, even if faster. Redshirt Hayes.


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 9:40 p.m.

What does this say about Shaw and Hopkins? Not good things, I'd think.


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 8:43 p.m.

This is good news.Right now we need someone to step up at the running back position.