Fitzgerald Toussaint possesses a blend of speed and balance that many can't match. This makes his absence painful and his return crucial. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
I've written the beginning of this post four different times already, and after realizing that there is no clever way to go about introducing Toussaint's suspension I'll LINK IT and move on. The elephant in the room has been identified. It is now exiting the room.
Now that I have your full attention, let's talk football and the path that brought one Fitzgerald Toussaint into Michigan Stadium.
Toussaint attended Liberty High School in Youngstown, Ohio. Outside of being a fantastic football player he became the father of his now five-year-old daughter, Martia. Brady Hoke loves family men and I have a feeling that he would have recruited Toussaint out of high school had he been at Michigan early enough to do so. Toussaint's motivation:
For Toussaint, his prime source of motivation comes from his family -- from his hard-working mother, who raised Fitzgerald and his four older siblings in Youngstown, Ohio, to daughter, Martia, whose fifth birthday was this past Dec. 10. He has his daughter's initials tattooed on his right forearm, a reminder of what he plays for every day.
"She means the world to me, that's all I can say," he said. "Being away from her, I worry about her every night. That's my heart right there, my mother and my daughter."
Toussaint seems to have his heart in the right place despite his recent incident. He had more than family values going for him, and Rich Rodriguez naturally came calling. They saw a running back with burst:
I'm talking explosiveness. Standing at 5'10" and weighing only 185 pounds he was reminiscent of the late Steve Slaton. They have many things in common: agility, speed that's half a notch below elite, a decent amount of power for someone so small, and a high three-star to low four-star ranking. He would be Michigan's fourth commitment in the class of 2009, and of the four would be the only one to remain on the roster.
His career would begin with a redshirt. Heading into his second year in Ann Arbor he was receiving enough spring recognition to warrant playing time, and although it was in short intervals he would see some action. Had it not been for injuries to both his knee and shoulder he may have been a known quantity much earlier.
Then came Brady Hoke. Running a hybrid offense throughout 2011 ended up being a large plus for Toussaint, who would see his production take off. He got off to a hot start, averaging 5.68 yards per carry heading into an extremely hyped matchup with Michigan State, only two see all of two carries. Two. The number after one was the amount of carries that Michigan's most talented back saw against Michigan State. Damn you Al Borges.
From there Toussaint decided to remind Borges just how poor his MSU game plan was by averaging 5.94 yards per carry from that point on, and that's including a mediocre effort against a good Virginia Tech defense. Without it? 6.35 yards per carry. He makes up a large portion of Michigan's offensive highlights for the year:
Skip to 12:30 if you're looking for good times. When he came to Ann Arbor many saw a quick-twitch running back who didn't have the greatest vision, but things have changed. Toussaint has become a patient back who's willing to let his big men do the dirty work before slashing for chunks of yards. He's visibly stronger than when he first arrived on campus and regained the burst that was once taken from him due to injury, and after you add it to his ability to make defenders miss with sharp cuts you've got yourself one hell of a running back. I also think that people criminally underrate his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and often wonder why Borges doesn't get him more involved in the passing game.
The outlook for a player with such talent and pro potential usually isn't hard to come up with, but Toussaint's current position is unique.
He will most likely miss the opener against Alabama, and even if he doesn't he most certainly won't see his normal amount of touches. The Alabama front is loaded with talent capable of playing on Sundays and Michigan may be forced to use the running game in small amounts, so the impact his vacancy will have is debatable.
Assuming he misses at least two games he'll return from the doghouse to a backfield that will already feature the game's most electrifying rusher. The man filling in beside Denard Robinson will likely be Thomas Rawls, and depending on how he performs Toussaint's numbers could fall much lower than expected. I don't expect Rawls to break out and push for the starting role, but I do expect him to make a handful of big plays through a level of power that Toussaint doesn't bring to the table.
For Fitz this means a slight decrease from his previously expected carries during the course of the season. Rushing for 1,000 yards isn't out of the question, especially if Michigan's starting offensive lineman hold up. He should play in anywhere from ten to twelve games, meaning that he'll need to average around 100 yards per game in order to match his 2011 statistics.
In the end expect Fitz to carry the ball just as many times he did in 2011, but not too much more. He'll come back into the fold late but this time he'll be established instead of playing early and sharing all of the carries until midseason. His YPC should drop slightly.
After that everything is up in the air. If he shows well and gets over the 1,000 yard mark he could be a hot commodity in draft talks. He's not going to go in the first round but a big season could lead to him being a mid-round NFL pick should scouts set his recent troubles aside, and that's hard to turn down when you've got a family to support. If he decides to come back he'll be the premier running back on the roster once again and be in great shape for a third chance at a 1,000 yard season. Whatever path he chooses will end with a shot at the NFL.