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Posted on Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 4 p.m.

'Battering ram' Michigan football RB Thomas Rawls caps productive spring behind starter Fitz Toussaint

By Nick Baumgardner


Michigan sophomore running back Thomas Rawls rushed nine times for 39 yards and scored two touchdowns Saturday during the spring football game at Michigan Stadium.

Melanie Maxwell |

There's little question who is expected to take the opening handoff of the 2012 season for the Michigan football team.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges said as much earlier this spring. Fitz Toussaint is his tailback, and there's no sense debating it.

However, Toussaint's reserve corps seemingly took a big step forward during the past month, as evidenced Saturday by the play of sophomore Thomas Rawls in the team's annual spring game at Michigan Stadium.

"Thomas has had a good spring," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "He's one of those guys, when you look at the body of work, with his physicalness, he's hard to tackle.

"You've got to give him credit for that, and he's a good football player."

Rawls saw action with both the first and second units Saturday, and he proved to be one of the lone individual bright spots offensively.


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The 5-foot-10-inch, 219-pound sophomore from Flint finished with 39 yards on nine carries, including a pair of bruising touchdown runs — one from 21 yards out, the other from 2.

He saw limited action a year ago, gaining 79 yards in just three appearances, but this season, he clearly has the coaching staff's attention.

"He's a different kind of runner than Fitz and a different kind of runner than (senior Vincent Smith)," Borges said of Rawls. "He's a battering ram-type guy. When Thomas hits you, you're going to feel him.

"He makes no concessions to the defense. He's got a little bit of stop and go ability, but that's not his game. His game is running through people and making things very difficult (for the defense). And he's done that all spring."

Toussaint remains the unquestioned leader on the depth chart after gaining 1,041 yards a year ago.

Toussaint said his goal in 2012 is to rush for at least 1,600 yards and, more importantly, to become the best overall running back in the country.

"I have to approach (this summer) with a much more aggressive mindset," Toussaint said. "I have to come out there and act like I want to be the best running back in the country, and that's what I'm going to do.

"That's my goal."

Though Toussaint's production goal is clear, he said his biggest spring improvement has been his overall leadership ability, something he hopes has helped improve the overall play of those behind him —Rawls included.

Earlier this spring, Toussaint raved about Rawls' ability to run over, through and around people. Saturday, roughly 25,000 people at Michigan Stadium saw his claim first-hand.

"I always tell those young guys what they have to do in order to live up to their potential, and he listens very well; he does what the coaches tell him," Toussaint said of Rawls. "He's definitely playing more aggressive, and he's moving the ball pretty well.

"I like it. It kind of gives me a break, it gives Denard (Robinson) a break a bit for a younger guy to come in and do what he does."

Toussaint is the starter, and Smith will likely continue to serve a unique role next season.

But the Wolverines might have to make room for Rawls in a suddenly talented and deep backfield.

"We're as comfortable as you can be (at running back) at this point," Hoke said. "I like them. I like them all. Vince Smith is maybe, pound for pound, the toughest guy on this football team.

"And you like to see that."

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan sports for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.



Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 11:23 p.m.

Ah Yes, starting to get that jazzed up feeling before the start of another Mich. season.

Scott Laux

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 4:09 a.m.

Watched the highlights on Youtube. Michigan seems a lot further along than last year. Rawls is an absolute beast. The defense seemed tenacious. The O line looked fine for this early. Watching Gardner clear the end and run down the sideline is impressive- tall, powerful, fast, athletic. Seems like a terrible waste having him on the sideline. Can't see why he can't play at wide out and still be the backup this year and the starter next-if he wins it. Waste of a top NFL talent in my mind. Slap the number one on his back. We could go 13-0.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 5:34 a.m.

Gardner, Roundtree, and Gallon would be the best WR trio in the B1G. Gallon has glue on his hands. Catches bout Every ball. Gardner is freakish athlete with stride and swivel in his hips. Watching him scramble Sat was nice. He will be hard to tackle. GO BLUE!!!

Terry Star21

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 12:07 a.m.

Looking froward to watching both of them 'battering ram' their way through the bama defense to pay dirt - too sweet ! Michigan heritage has always been a great QB, two great backs and a stifling defense. MgoBlueForTiM.....looking good for 2012.....


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 11:57 p.m.

RJ12688: I missed that depth and talent during RR's years too, but those players were Carr's guys. Right now, we are enjoying the efforts of RR's recruiting and benefiting from the maturing of the players that were only 18/19 years old when RR had them. I prefer the coaching staff we have now (much better group of coaches we have now for sure)--so don't get me wrong. But don't blame RR for the undeveloped talent and lack of depth RR inherited.

Scott Laux

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 4:28 a.m.

Your right. RR didn't leave the cupboard bare. He recruited athletes with speed (Fritz, Denard, Gardner, all the great LB's . To Hoke's credit he never said "wait a few years' like RR. He just worked with them and beefed some up. Love what Hoke and Mattison have done. RR deserved to be fired for the defense. But I hated the last few yeas of the Carr regime. I honestly feel Carr left Michigan football in worse shape (slow plodding guys) than RR. My biggest football fear is seeing an Elvis Grbac type guy at QB. But I think Hoke gets it and (secretly) appreciates speed and athleticism as much as size and strength.


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 9:32 p.m.

GARDNER, BELLOMY, RAWLS and HAWTHORNE looked pretty solid!! GO BLUE!!!!!!


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 5:28 a.m.

Hawthorne looked terrific. Go back to that ND game and 2nd half of the NW game last season. Watch the speed and agressiveness to the ball. He and Cam Gordon are gonna be impact players this season .


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 8:44 p.m.

It's great to see that depth and talent UM has at RB. I missed that during the RR years. UM's rushing game is going to be solid next year, and if Denard can make teams pay with his arm when they stack the box then this offense will hum right along.

Steve McQueen

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 11:02 a.m.

well Freddy Jackson JR coached Rawls in Props to Freddys son for letting the old man know about the lowly 3 star RB who just runs through people. We need that.

Scott Laux

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 4:13 a.m.

Rawls would have never been offered under RR. But who really noticed him before Michigan? MAC schools. Great job by Fred Jackson to see beyond the stars.


Sat, Apr 14, 2012 : 8:21 p.m.

This a great one-two punch. Imagine both of them lining up in the backfield with Denard as an option to run. Al Borgess is going to have lots of fun designing plays around those guys. Can't wait.