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Posted on Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 1:21 p.m.

Position battles at tailback, cornerback, receiver will intensify with start of Michigan's padded practices

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan freshman running back Thomas Rawls (38) gets some work earlier this week. Competition for carries during the season truly begins Friday, when the Wolverines strap on full pads for the first time this fall.

Melanie Maxwell I

The Michigan football coaching staff has stressed throughout the first week of fall camp that position battles would not begin to sort themselves out while the team was practicing without pads.

At 4 p.m. today, the Wolverines add the pads — and the hitting.

The most prominent position battle is at running back, where head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges are searching for a player who will rush at least 20 times per game.

The leading candidates for the position seem to be senior Mike Shaw, sophomore Stephen Hopkins and junior Vincent Smith. True freshman Thomas Rawls also is expected to be given a chance to win the job. Junior Mike Cox and freshman Justice Hayes are long shots, but haven't yet been ruled out.

Borges said he hopes to wean the field to a couple finalists early on, then make a decision within two weeks.

Hoke said he plans to start preparing for games in about eight days, and would ideally have made a decision by then.

The criteria being used for the competition includes the ability to win battles in the open field, break tackles, make defenders miss, pass protect and catch the ball.

While Michigan's padless practices have been physical, there has been no tackling, which makes it difficult for tailbacks to distinguish themselves from the pack. The competition will intensify today with the opener of padded practices, and Saturday with the first two-a-day of camp.

There will be no media availability at either of those practices, the athletic department announced earlier this week.

"It's hard to judge, to some degree, until we really start putting them down and seeing them protect, with a big linebacker coming, and how they'll hold up there," Hoke said.

Michigan has used a tailback-by-committee approach the past three years in former coach Rich Rodriguez's spread-option attack, and quarterback Denard Robinson received the bulk of the carries last year.

In fact, the Wolverines haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher at tailback since Mike Hart ran for 1,361 in 2007.

That all changes this year, with the move to the pro-style offense and more of a power-running game. Hoke and Borges want a featured back to carry the rushing load.

"I don't like rotating guys," Borges said. "I don't. But that being said, if two guys are on an even plane, then we may do it. Never say never. But, it's never been my preference."

What do the running backs think of the coaching staff preferring one guy getting the bulk of the carries, even if several players are capable?

"That's what Michigan football is," Shaw said. "It's one guy. There's a pride factor where every single running back wants to be the man. It comes with the territory.

"The competition just makes us all work harder."

Shaw and Hopkins have good size and some experience, which could give them an edge in the competition. Smith is a smaller, shiftier back and could be a change-of-pace runner.

Rawls will get his shot, but Borges said the freshmen's heads "are spinning" because they weren't around for spring camp, and haven't even run through all the fall drills because of summer classes. Still, if Rawls proves himself to be a capable back, Borges might find a role for him, even if he isn't the featured back.

"You've got to understand something about running back: You can play a young guy and not ask him to do everything" Borges said. "If he has a skill you need in there, then you use him as you see fit — and not abuse him, because if he gets in there and can't pick up a blitz, then your quarterback is getting killed.

"So, we can bring them around kinda slow and still get them in games, if they prove they deserve to be in games."

Hoke said the team will have its first of three fall scrimmages mid-next week, which should provide another proving grounds for the backs.

Another position with an open competition appears to be a cornerback. Senior Troy Woolfolk and junior J.T. Floyd were expected to be the Wolverines' top two cornerbacks last year before going down with injuries.

Hoke said sophomore Courtney Avery and freshman Greg Brown have practiced well, and he's not yet ready to guarantee Woolfolk and Floyd's jobs' back.

There also could be a competition for determining who fills out Michigan's receiving corps. Junior Roy Roundtree and senior Junior Hemingway are the Wolverines' clear top two wideouts, but Hoke had trouble answering who could see time after them.

"Good question," he said. "There is some talent there, but ... I don't know who else."

Seniors Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady are small receivers who have played in the slot, and should get playing time. Hoke also has mentioned redshirt freshman Jerald Robinson as a player who could contribute.

Robinson is 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds, which could make him a candidate to help fill in on the outside for Darryl Stonum, who is redshirting this season.

It seems, though, none have impressed Hoke in the first four days of practice.

More should become known Friday and Saturday, as fall camp takes on a whole new look — a padded one.

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


Wally the Wolverine

Mon, Aug 15, 2011 : 4:42 p.m.

Those who stay... ...will still be on the team. LGB!!


Sat, Aug 13, 2011 : 11:24 p.m.

With 6 or 7 guys trying to be the man, who will be the first to transfer? There are a lot of guys who came here because they got to play in games. Now 2 or 3 of them may never see the field again in a real game. Can't imagine they will stick around. I wouldn't. All these guys can play and they proved it it that mess of an offense the last couple years. If I'm the guy who ends up 5th, 6th or 7th, I have to look elsewhere after the season ends. And please don't give me the " those who stay" speech. I get that. But you know if you were passed up for a promotion by 6 or 7 other people you might be looking for other opportunities yourself. Don't be a hypocrite.


Sat, Aug 13, 2011 : 2:11 p.m.

we have a lot of talent at TB and i think we may see more then one step up and carry the rock this year. they all bring something a little different to the table. come on guys the fans are ready, shows what you got! GO BLUE!!


Sat, Aug 13, 2011 : 12:06 p.m.

I'd like to see Michael Cox get the nod. He's a big and fast back who seldom is given a chance but has demonstrated strength and power when he has.

1st Down

Sat, Aug 13, 2011 : 3:16 a.m.

Dont be shocked if you see Thomas Rawls get significant PT before the end of the year, and end up going in to next season as the starting TB.


Sat, Aug 13, 2011 : 4:27 a.m.

I'm with ya on that 1st Down.. Ive posted about T.Rawls several times.. If you watch his vids you'll see it... he doesn't go down real easy,and very elusive in the open field ..


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 8:37 p.m.

I just hope there's a standout in this group who will help Denard NOT to be the runner on every play. This is a big dimension on any team and it's one that's been missing for the Wolverines for too long.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 7:39 p.m.

Glad to hear we're looking for someone to carry the ball 20 times a game. We need to have a running threat that is NOT Denard, both to carry some of the load and to make defenses play honest. My bet is on Vincent Smith. Good Night and Good Luck

Lorain Steelmen

Sat, Aug 13, 2011 : 6:42 p.m.

I think ERMG is thinking of Vince Smith, as a VERY TOUIGH kid. Which i he is. His strongest asset is his 'heart'! Great kid, and a fighter. Hopkins (and Cox), are bigger kids, physically, and would be considered as the 'pile driver' types. Borges is talking about one kid, as the primary guy, but I differ somewhat. These backs take a pounding! I like to be able to go two or three deep. As the season wears on, it gets tough out there. Side note...anyone remember Chris Perry, in 2003, I believe. He ran something like 51 or 52 times vs MSU, at East Lansing. (And had a big game, in our win vs. osu, at the Big House!) The kid was a 'workhorse', and not all that big. And, of course, Anthony (A-Train) Thomas. A 'blue-collar' back that could always be counted on. Another great kid. But htese guys both were mature, Jr & Sr. I think Cox is our 'oldest' back. So we may be a bit 'young' there.


Sat, Aug 13, 2011 : 4:45 a.m.

ERMG ... no worries ... I can't keep 'em straight either. It's not like the "good old days" when there was a featured back and when he was in it was clear ... Chuck Heater, Gordie Bell, Rob Lytle, Harlan Huckleby, Butch Woolfolk, Tim Biakabatuka ... Mike Hart. I'm sure I'm forgetting someone noteworthy in that list off the top of my head. That we haven't had a 1000 yard rushing back since 2007 is telling. I can't remember the last time Michigan didn't have a 1000+ yarder prior to that.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Sat, Aug 13, 2011 : 1:13 a.m.

I may have my backs mixed up--thought I recalled Smith as something of a prototypical B10 tailback--200-210 lbs or so. I must have been thinking of Hopkins. Good catch, Don. Good Night and Good Luck


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 11:40 p.m.

Vincent Smith (JR) - 5'6" and 172lbs Michael Shaw (SR) - 6'1" and 195lbs Stephen Hopkins (SO) - 6'0" and 228lbs ERMG -- I'm a little surprised to say "Smith can run people over." The article indicates he has a smaller frame and is "shiftier." Help me ... is Smith one of those fireplug backs ... low and strong? What's your thinking here?

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 9:16 p.m.

Agree, LS. They are two different types of runners. Shaw has breakaway potential while Smith can run people over. It will be interesting to see which one emerges. And I think you are absolutely correct that Borges will be looking at other talents, as well, esp. pass blocking. This IS Michigan! Good Night and Good Luck

Lorain Steelmen

Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 8:52 p.m.

Yep, Vince Smith, IS a tough kid, and has played with some passion, in the past. But I also like Shaw, if he gets in the open he's dangerous. Both Cox and Hopkins have a little bit bigger frame, which, if we read Borges' comments right, means a pile driver back. I look for 'Freddy Jack', to place a lot of weight on 'how these kids play, 'away for the ball', namely, pass blocking. The two rookies, Hayes and Rawls, may also be tough backs, down the road. I think 'the BLUE', will be A-OK back there! Let's hope this squad stays reasonably healthy, and gets off to a strong start! Go Blue!


Fri, Aug 12, 2011 : 7:25 p.m.

Even the sports page needs an editor; note to You winnow a field. You wean a baby (puppy, calf, foal, etc.) Presumably all of potential running backs were weaned long ago, and the field can't be.