When Michigan RB Thomas Rawls runs, 'you got to get out the way'
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
The Michigan football team's first preseason practice was held Monday without pads.
Just imagine the poor souls tasked with wrapping up sophomore Thomas Rawls, who, pads or no pads, isn't going around his guy -- he's going through him.
"That's a tough guy," senior quarterback Denard Robinson said. "When he runs the ball, you really get out the way. That's what kind of guy he is. He's an aggressive runner, and if sees a guy -- he just might try to run him over."
Even without pads?
"Oh, yeah," Robinson said. "That's just how he runs. Runs angry. Every time I see him run the ball, you got to get out the way."
That tenacity ultimately is why Rawls, not senior Vincent Smith, appears to be the leader to replace starting tailback Fitz Toussaint if the junior is not available for the start of the season.
Toussaint was arrested last month in Ann Arbor on a drunken-driving charge. He was held out of Michigan's first workout Monday, and his availability for the season opener Sept. 1 against Alabama has yet to be determined.
Rawls and Smith, as well as redshirt freshman Justice Hayes, received the bulk of the practice carries in Toussaint's stead.
Smith posted 50 carries for 298 yards last year as Toussaint's backup, but offensive coordinator Al Borges said he envisions the senior as more of a situational back who is better suited for pass protection.
Rawls, conversely, has less experience but more potential.
He rushed just 13 times for 79 yards last season as a freshman, but consistently impressed coaches in practice. He broke through in the spring game, scoring the Wolverines' only two touchdowns.
Now, the 5-foot-10, 218-pounder is emerging as the favorite to back up Toussaint -- or start for him, should it be needed. Jobs won't be awarded after just one day of camp, but the early returns on Rawls are flattering.
"Rawls is angry," coach Brady Hoke said approvingly, a nod to the tailback's punishing style.
Hoke spoke at length last year about ratcheting up the physicality of practices, and wants to see the same this year, pads or otherwise.
That's exactly what Rawls brings.
"He just runs hard," Hoke said. "He's hard to tackle, he's physical, has pretty good balance."
Rawls won't wrestle the lead tailback job from Toussaint, who rushed for 1,041 yards in his first season as the starter. But he's emerging as a favorite to earn the backup spot -- a position of increasing importance, with Toussaint's status hanging in the balance.
Michigan seems to like its options.