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Posted on Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Thomas Rawls following Fitz Toussaint's path into Michigan football team's backfield

By Kyle Meinke


Thomas Rawls (38) is seeing extra snaps at tailback and fullback this spring.

Melanie Maxwell I

Long before Fitz Toussaint was a 1,000-yard rusher, he was a guy who ran into bodies, who didn't recognize coverages -- who didn't play.

Before he could run, he had to see.

Thomas Rawls seems to be traveling a similar path.

The Michigan football team's sophomore tailback played sparingly last year while Toussaint and Vincent Smith paced the nation's 13th-best rushing attack (with a little help from quarterback Denard Robinson).

But Rawls wasn't idle, either.


Thomas Rawls

He closely analyzed Toussaint's rise from a nobody with bad vision into one of the Big Ten's most productive players. He picked up a thing or two without having to endure the lumps that most freshmen incur when thrust into action.

"I think those are good mental reps, I call them, where you can steal repetition from a guy who may not have done it right, and then not have to bull it yourself," offensive coordinator Al Borges said during a news conference Thursday.

Toussaint is a good model for Rawls, considering what he went through last year is exactly what Rawls is going through this year.

Entering last season, Toussaint was a sophomore with eight career carries for 87 yards. He was a physical runner who wasn't afraid of contact, but hadn't yet learned how to avoid it.

He sharpened his vision as the year progressed, though, and finished last season as Michigan's first 1,000-yard tailback in four years. Borges, more than anything, credits the revelation to simply getting Toussaint more snaps.

Rawls, who'll be a sophomore himself, has 13 career carries for 79 yards and has struggled with the same vision problem. The solution probably isn't so different from Toussaint's, either: More snaps.

And that's what Michigan has done this spring, increasing Rawls' reps at tailback as well as giving him a look at fullback. After 11 practices, Borges is noticing a difference.

"He’s starting to see the line of scrimmage better and make better cuts and not run into bodies," Borges said. "Coming out of high school -- and a lot of the guys do this -- the power backs just tend to want to run straight ahead and run over guys because they can’t tackle them, and the scat backs tend to want to juke everybody and never get up the field.

"Well the perfect back is somewhere in between. They understand when to use their power and understand when to use their stop and go ability, and Thomas has now gotten to a point where he’s not simply trying to run over everybody every time he gets the ball.”

One difference between the two backs is opportunity. The Wolverines had an open derby last year for the lead tailback job, and Toussaint won it. He went on to gain 1,041 yards, fifth most in the Big Ten.

This year, there is no such competition. Borges confirmed Thursday that Toussaint will be the team's featured back, noting, "If he isn’t, I’m not very smart."

Still, there will be opportunities for others to fill complementary roles.

Smith, a senior, is expected to be the Wolverines' primary change-of-pace back. He is the team's best blocker and its most capable pass-catcher out of the backfield, which makes him a good fit for third-down situations.

But no one in Michigan's stable of tailbacks features the kind of pure power for which Rawls has become known. The 5-foot-10, 219-pounder could enter the fray next year, if he continues to improve his vision and sorts out his issues in the protection schemes.

“He’s more of a power back," Borges said of Rawls. "He brings a load now, because he’s a thick, strong, solid player with good speed. He’s going to generally fall forward when he hits you, and there’s going to be some impact when he hits you.

"Whoever’s trying to tackle him, particularly in the open field, is going to feel him."

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


Steve McQueen

Sat, Apr 7, 2012 : 11:14 p.m.

In the practice video posted today on a popular Michigan athletics blog, Rawls...runs like a beast. The kid is a load to tackle and shows great speed, vision and cuts. He may end up being a very good runner at Michigan.

Terry Star21

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 8:03 p.m.

Great picture of Rawls.....I like that direct look - 'I'm coming right at you, better move or get hurt..'. Michigan football has always been, first about great defense - and also about great(s) running backs (okay #1 is always 'Great Coaches'). MgoBlueForTiM....another great reason to be a Wolverine football faithful.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 6:38 p.m.

Like ted, I roll my eyes every time a certain coach speaks. The only difference is, I roll my eyes when urban meyer speaks. I can't believe any words that spew from his mouth. He says things like he's leaving Florida because of illness...then returns days later...only to quit AGAIN in order to 'spend time' with family. How crazy is that?! Then, Less than a year later, he has decided that family time is overrated, illnesses are cured, and he's back to coaching, only this time at ohio after flatly denying on national tv that he had had any contact with the bucks. Wow! Talk about fickle and unreliable. When that guy speaks, my eyes roll so badly they spin around in complete circles to the point i almost black out. I worry for my health when I listen to him. Good thing for me, he'll only be around for 3-4 years before he has to 'spend time' with the family again and call it a least for a year before moving on to take over at Notre Dame or something.

Terry Star21

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 7:58 p.m.

az...I agree mostly with you, but AB backs up his words. As far as urban, he is a perfect fit, it was well known over the years that ohio's last coach cheated and used unfair advantages - even infiltrating other teams practices (ever wonder why they always knew what plays teams were using). From what the talk is about urban, he will soon be in trouble, and if not that the pressure will do him in down there. Despite my views, I have always respected about 85% of ohio's players @ and hold them in the highest esteem.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 6:53 p.m.

It makes the Buckeyes nervous when we start talking about one of our two 1,000 yard rushers. I'd be nervous too, considering that their new, fragile coach has never produced even one.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 5:15 p.m.

When I start reading Al Borges quotes I roll my eyes. Everything that comes out of his mouth, he just made up 5 seconds before he said it. You have fooled the world for far too long Mr. Borges ! Your day of judgement shall soon come, for you can never fool a Michigan Man !


Sun, Apr 8, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

Just go away Ted...or Sparty....or Bucknut...or whoever you are. I enjoy reading comments form people who follow Michigan football. Then people like you drop in and I wonder why? It's because there in nothing about your team to really be positive about. Oh...and Michigan is simply the most successful football team in college football history and you simply can stand that fact. Just go away.

Scott Laux

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 9:54 p.m.

Show us your diploma Ted.

Steve McQueen

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 9:52 p.m.

poor ted... being a scared sparty really hurts doesnt it?

Terry Star21

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 7:51 p.m.

@ted; You keep saying, "We are Michigan men" - and that is very hurtful and mean-spirited to me. A 'Michigan Man' never has to tell anyone that he is and a 'Michigan Man' and would never make up lies about our school, our coaches and our team/members. I am one of the few that enjoy your comments, for the purpose and your intention that you print them and I will save money listening to you and skip the 'Three Stooges' new movie. (No wait, that's the one where Michigan' Kate Upton is in).


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 7:42 p.m.

truth is a part of an honorable code of conduct. . . something you are lacking! GO BLUE!!!!!!


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 7:22 p.m.

umgoblue47 I feel your comment directed at me was very hurtful and mean-spirited . I know not everyone always agrees on this site , but it is important to be civil and consider other people's feelings beside our own. It is a staple of our character at Michigan. Remember we are Michigan Men. And though my commitment to that title may mean more to me than it does to others such as yourself, we should always abide by an honorable code of conduct.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

remove coach borges name from your post and insert your's. . . enough said!! GO BLUE!!!!!!

Matt Patercsak

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 2:46 p.m.

Thomas the train