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Posted on Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 5:40 p.m.

Running back competition is wide open on Michigan football team

By Pete Bigelow

When it comes to which players are receiving first-team snaps this summer, members of the Michigan football team cannot say much because protocol dictates they remain tight-lipped.

When it comes to which players are receiving first-team snaps at running back, the Wolverines cannot say because it’s simply too hard to keep track.

“I don’t know who’s been running with the ones the most, because so many different guys have cycled through there,” offensive lineman Stephen Schilling said.


Michigan sophomore running back Vincent Smith is one of several backs coach Rich Rodriguez can choose from.

File photo

Running back may be the most wide-open competition of the summer.

The Wolverines have no less than six candidates vying for starting jobs or significant playing time.

“That is one of the most interesting races for people to watch,” coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I don’t want to say running back, but who are the running backs going to be?”

Rodriguez said he expects to use at least two - and probably three - backs in a regular rotation that won’t be set until the week before Michigan opens the season Sept. 4 against UConn.

No established favorite exists among the one junior, two sophomores, one redshirt freshman and two true freshmen competing to replace last year’s leading rushers, Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, who both graduated.

Winners may be determined by what role they fill.

If the Wolverines want pure speed, they have two candidates in 5-foot-6, 180-pound sophomore Vincent Smith, who tore his ACL against Ohio State last November, and junior Michael Shaw, the most experienced member of the candidates.

If they want a combination of size and speed, they can turn to Michael Cox, who scored two touchdowns against Delaware State last year, Fitzgerald Toussaint, who missed last season with a broken collarbone, and true freshman Austin White.

If they want to revisit Michigan’s three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust era, they’ve got true freshmen Stephen Hopkins, the team’s biggest back at 227 pounds.

For good measure, the Wolverines return slot receivers Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady, who have taken occasional handoffs in previous seasons.

“You’d be more concerned about having no talent there,” said Rodriguez, when asked if using a running back-by-committee would be a concern.

On the contrary, that’s the approach he has favored in his first two years in Ann Arbor.

Under Rodriguez, no Michigan running back has rushed for more than 533 yards in a single season. Last year, Michigan backs carried 20 or more times in a game only twice. (Minor against Iowa; Brown against Illinois).

But in 2009, four Wolverines running backs with at least 48 carries averaged more than 5 yards per carry (Brown 5.9 ypc, Smith 5.8 ypc, Minor 5.2 ypc, Denard Robinson 5.1 ypc).

Nine different Wolverines scored rushing touchdowns last year.

Through the first week of training camp, Rodriguez said it was hard to project which candidates might make similar contributions this fall. Now that the Wolverines are practicing in full pads, that will change.

“No question,” Rodriguez said. “You can see that a little bit. … We’ll see who will start to step up.”

Have a question about the Michigan football team? Email Pete Bigelow at Follow him on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.


Sean T.

Tue, Aug 17, 2010 : 2:02 a.m.

That is a good point Bob.


Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 6:05 a.m.

How easy will it be to recruit the really good backs with RR at the helm? No running back with more than 533? These guys all like the marquee and think they are the one. If they realize Michigan rotates three backs, they'll realize 1000 yard seasons and heisman hopes are nil here.

Sean T.

Mon, Aug 16, 2010 : 12:45 a.m.

Trueblue, Odoms played some runningback in HS and his skills are very similar to the RB's RR had back in WV. Odoms at 5'8 175 lbs is a better fit at RB in my opinion because he's shifty and has good vision. And Austin White is a all-purpose back but he has the least experience though he can catch out of the backfield. But I ask you what's wrong with a freshman RB because we played two freshman QB's last year? From what I've seen of V. Smith, he is only similar to Mike Hart because of size. Mike Hart was slower but he had 20 yard burst with uncanny vision. And not to mention his physical running style which made him impossible to bring down in the clutch. I thought the article was accurate by calling Smith a "pure speed back" because he isn't physical though he has speed to take it to the house.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 10:48 p.m.

Sean T. - Odoms is a slot receiver, not a running back. I doubt he's going to take hand offs behind the LOS unless it's an end around. Austin White is a true freshman and hasn't taken a hand off in a college game. I'm not sure he can be annointed as the one with the most skills at this point. saginaw - Penn State has no clue who will be the starter at QB. Joe Pa said so this past week. Newsome has not taken the reigns. In fact, analysts think Bolden or Jones, both true freshmen, are the leaders at this point. I think Toussaint will be the feature back this year with Cox and Hopkins being the short yardage guys.

Jaxon Boyfriend

Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 11:50 a.m.

Everyone that says Mr. Rodrigeuz has drastically changed Michigan Football - catch this Stephan Hopkins kid. 3 yards and a cloud of dust?, yes sometimes- but 10-12 yards more likely. Go blue. Goodnight.......and Go Blue.


Sun, Aug 15, 2010 : 7:51 a.m.

Tater, those were my thoughts too. Smith is more like Mike Hart (not just because he's so small) in his game because he is really shifty and will make the first (and sometimes second and third) guys miss, and that is why he can be so dangerous. I'm not sure why this article considers him a "pure speed" back. Also, I wish it would be noted in regards to the statement "Under Rodriguez, no Michigan running back has rushed for more than 533 yards in a single season" that this has more to do with injury than anything else. If Minor had been health all of last year he would have easily rushed for 1,000+.

Macabre Sunset

Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 9 p.m.

It really doesn't matter with the whimsical nature of the he-who-cannot-be-named blocking schemes. Plenty of six-yard gains on second-and-ten, but the inability to convert a third-and-one.


Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 6:52 p.m.

One the one hand, competition is a good thing. On other, most very good teams have settled on their QB, RB, DB's and receivers. Last season we had a clear #1 QB and it helped the team in the first 5 - 6 games. MSU had two alternating QB's and it clearly hurt them in 2009. Teams such as Penn State, NW, and Notre Dame must start new QB's in 2010, but they seem to know exactly who is their #1 guy.....

Sean T.

Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 6:08 p.m.

I think Smith is healthy and I like Micheal Shaw too!


Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 5:20 p.m.

If I can choose 3 I want Vincent Smith/Michael Shaw/Austin White. Is Smith healthy again and practicing? I haven't paid much attention to his rehab the last couple months.. I think he could be the best out of all them.

Sean T.

Sat, Aug 14, 2010 : 5:02 p.m.

I'm scared. I hope RR uses the RB with the most skills and that's Austin White! Montavious Odoms and K.Grady wouldn't be far fetched either.