You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 2:47 p.m.

Michigan tailback hierarchy taking shape with Smith, Toussaint, Rawls at top; Shaw sliding down

By Kyle Meinke


Junior Vincent Smith (2) has ascended the Michigan tailback depth chart while senior Michael Shaw has dropped.

Michigan football coach Brady Hoke said Wednesday he still expects junior Vincent Smith to start at tailback Saturday against San Diego State.

"I would think so," Hoke said. "Fitz (Toussaint) had a good day (Tuesday), too. Both those guys ran the ball hard. (Thomas) Rawls ran the ball hard and he got some snaps in there. We're still trying to find what that magic combination is."

Smith had nine carries for 118 yards in last weekend's win against Eastern Michigan, the best performance of the season by a Michigan tailback. Hoke on Monday said Smith had "earned the right" to be the lead back.

Toussaint, a sophomore, was the starter in the opener against Western Michigan and last week against Eastern Michigan. He sat out with a shoulder injury against Notre Dame, when senior Michael Shaw got the start (although sophomore Stephen Hopkins was used more).

Hoke said Rawls, a freshman who received his first two carries of his career last week, "probably" has slid up to second or third on the depth chart. Offensive coordinator Al Borges said Tuesday he probably would receive more snaps in future weeks.

"He’s a talented kid we need to find out more about," Borges said. "If it’s a freshman that’s a lead back, so be it, but we’ll never find out unless you put him in a game.

"How much (time he gets), I’m not sure."

With Smith, Toussaint and Rawls now the top three backs, the odd man out appears to be Shaw, who coaches said throughout fall camp was the leader to win the tailback competition. He lost that battle the night before the opener.

Shaw has been listed as a co-starter on the depth chart for each game, including Saturday against San Diego State (noon, BTN), but has received only seven carries.

Shaw was announced as the starter against Notre Dame, when Toussaint was out, but received only two carries for minus-3 yards in that game.

"He has to be a little more consistent in everything we do," Hoke said. "He'll have his time in there — I would think that — but there's a lot that goes along with being a back besides running the football, and we've got to be a lot more consistent in those areas."

The "we" referred to Shaw.

"He's working his tail off, so that's the encouraging thing," Hoke added.

While a hierarchy of the tailbacks is beginning to emerge with the Big Ten opener against Minnesota looming next week, uncertainty persists at the position.

"There will be a point (of choosing one), but I can't tell you (on the 21st of September) that we know when that point's going to happen," Hoke said. "There are good things they all do, to some degree. But at the same time, we want that guy who is going to play a perfect game."

Did Hoke think there would be this much fluidity at running back at this point in the season?

"I would say probably not," he said.

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 : 4:52 p.m.

I sure like the idea of using Vince,Fitz and T.Rawls ..different backs for different situations... Really like to see Rawls get some carries and he can show us what he's got, after all he is a typical Michigan running back,and has been groomed by Fred Jr. in high school,compared to Ingram jr. and now being groomed by Fred Sr. I've read Fred Jackson really likes Rawls,and know he has that magic,and if anybody knows a Michigan running back Fred does..He has great size,and a spring in his step,and the first time he breaks a tackle,and gets in the open field,the rest of us we'll all know .. TiM.. GO BLUE..


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 12:17 p.m.

If we are going to abandon the Al Borges offense and run the spread/west read option, Smith is no doubt the back of choice. He has better vision and better speed than the other backs. He is not ideal, however, in the prototypical pro style offense. To me it is simple...running the spread= use Smith, running the "Al" offense=use Toussaint, 3rd and short= use Hopkins/Rawls. Am I the only one who thinks this is incredibly obvious???

Chad Williams

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 4:47 a.m.

Smith is the most productive of them all. He finds the hole, catches the ball and blocks. His size isnt true to what he can actually do. Toughness is a trait that is mental more than physical so because he isnt 200 pounds doesnt mean he isn't tough.


Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 12:18 a.m.

I'm all for seeing Rawls. Being from Flint and knowing he once ran for 396 yds in one game is enough of a reason for me to want to see him. He's a powerful runner. But anyone who can go for 396 in a game, even a high school game, gets my attention.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 8:37 p.m.

I still believe in Toussaint as a starter. I'm not sold on the idea that Smith is THE answer. Both Rawls and Justice look intriguing. Give each a shot and see what develops!


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 8:08 p.m.

There's this one guy I know........he is a nascar fan and he knows fast. He said............. Smith,Toussaint,rawls or Justice it's hard to understand what all the fuss is, start em one, start em all!! Will be singing the victors in Schembechler hall For MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEANchigan football is back from the muck! If y'all don't believe this, you must be a buck!! (eye)

Matt Patercsak

Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 7:15 p.m.

the group of Smith, Toussaint and Rawls is a very manageable group of backs. with Smith's performance on saturday he has deserved the starting role and i think he will have it against SDSU. he should split time between himself and toussaint on drives, while Thomas Rawls comes in for I formation and short yardage situations. Much like Hopkins against ND. its hard to stop 5'10 219 pounds of pad level running on 2nd and 3. I think what the coaches said about Rawl's playing time is pretty cryptic, I just want to see him get a few carries between the tackles behind mccolgan. i think he will impress. as far as fitz goes, i hope he continues to develop as a sophomore. i think one day toussaint and rawls are going to be a lot like cadillac and ronnie brown were at Aurburn. but perhaps more like a monte ball and mark ingram.


Wed, Sep 21, 2011 : 7:10 p.m.

Technically speaking, the rushing game hierarchy is Shoelace, Smith, Touissant, Rawls and Shaw.