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