Michigan Spring Football Rundown: Quarterbacks & Running Backs

Jim Rogash

Michigan returns its starting quarterback from last year, but does he get to keep his job? The race for starting running back is underway with two sophomores looking for more playing time.

The offensive side of the ball has seen a facelift of sorts with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier situated in Ann Arbor. Nussmeier, a former quarterback, specializes in two areas of the offense: Grooming quarterbacks and preaching a power running game.

Arguably the biggest loss in the group was Fitzgerald Toussaint. Although his production has significantly dropped recently, he was a 1,000 yard rusher in 2011. The depth also took an unexpected hit when Thomas Rawls left the program to transfer to Central Michigan.

With leadership and youth in place, Nussmeier can now start to work his magic.

Biggest Question(s)

Is there a quarterback controversy in Ann Arbor?

Earlier last week, both Michigan coach Brady Hoke and Nussmeier did not commit to a starting quarterback. Insisting that the job is open and will be won by someone in the near future. The question remains: Is Devin Gardner your starting quarterback?

With sophomore Shane Morris waiting for his chance, he will definitely apply the pressure to prove to the coaching staff he is ready to lead the Michigan program. However, in experience alone, Gardner has the upper hand. With an almost 3,000-yard passing season a year ago, benching that kind of production in favor of a younger Morris is a bold move.

In the grand scheme of things, this is Gardner's job to lose. However, if he struggles mightily like he did at times last season, the coaching staff will not be afraid to plug in Morris when the time comes.

Is Green ready to be the featured back?

Michigan is in a fortunate situation with the running backs because it is returning two talented sophomores who fit exactly what Nussmeier is looking for in a back. Sophomores Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith are both thick-bodied backs who have the skillset to be punishing backs once they get established. With Toussaint and Rawls gone, that leaves Green and Smith the main backs on the offense.

However, only one can start.

With many believing that Green will be the featured running back in this offense, the main concern is whether or not he is actually ready for the role. With weight concerns coming into camp a season ago, his freshman season didn't exactly go as many would hope. With a whole year of weight training and conditioning in, Green should be in prime shape heading into the first game of the season.

Fans saw flashes of his power and strength and many hope that continues to improve as his career moves forward.

Who Do We Know

Devin Gardner. A senior leader who undoubtedly will be a prime candidate for senior captaincy heading into the season. On paper his stats were solid, but looking deeper reveals a down year for him. With the ability of a strong thrower who has incredible touch on his passes when given the time and the ability to escape pressure and pick up precious yards on the ground, he is someone that Nussmeier can groom. An example of this would be Nussmeier's grooming of former Washington QB Keith Price. Price had a similar skill set like Gardner does now, so this isn't out of Nussmeier's comfortability zone.

Does Gardner have a solid season in him? Or does he relinquish his quarterback duties to Morris? Gardner will have to step up big time and prove to the coaches and fans that he can be the guy that was once labeled as the next best thing at Michigan quarterback.

Derrick Green. A bruising sophomore running back who patiently waited for his chance to become the featured back. Green could become the type of back that Nussmeier covets.

Can Green keep the weight off and stick with the conditioning program? Can he stay healthy in camp? Green has all the talent in the world to become the next great Michigan back. Considering the state of the running game since Mike Hart left, Green doesn't have to do too much to get into the good graces of fans. He just needs to produce. The offensive line has a lot to do with the future success of the running backs.

The Next Big Thing

This honor has to go to Morris. Heralded as the next best thing before even taking a snap at Michigan, fans are patiently waiting to see what he can do once he gets his chance. That could happen this season or it may have to wait another year. Either way, Morris appears to be ready to lead the team whenever his number gets called.

Although we didn't see much with Morris last season, given a watered-down offense to work with against Kansas State, he appeared comfortable in the pocket and didn't seem scared of the big stage.

Morris and Nussmeier have one thing in common, they are both lefty quarterbacks. With Nussmeier having a proven track record of being able to groom quarterbacks into successful products, this could turn into a productive relationship between quarterback and position coach.

Other Names to Watch

Another name to look out for during camp is incoming freshman quarterback Wilton Speight. Speight, an early enrollee, has had a few months to get established with the Michigan offense. Although he probably won't see any major time this year, he will absolutely challenge Morris for the quarterback position in the future.

Michigan also returns redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson after suffering a torn ACL during the first game of the season last year. Johnson was an interesting option at running back last year due to his blazing fast speeds. He was a track athlete in high school and held many state records. It is obvious why his speed was coveted by the Michigan coaching staff. Used primarily as a reserve back, Johnson might see more of the same this season. It is possible he could be used as a change of pace back -- a very fast change of space at that. With the running back position not having as much depth as past seasons, Johnson might find himself with more opportunities to play if healthy enough to do so.

What Does It Mean

Though Michigan may or may not have established starters at both positions, there will be plenty of competition during spring and summer camp. Gardner should continue as Michigan's starting quarterback and could be a nice combination with Green. But, this all depends on which direction Nussmeier is willing to go. Will he decide to stick with the experience? Or will he decide to go with the young gun ready to prove himself?

The running back position is a source of interest because Green and Smith are basically the same player. Both are exactly the same height (5'11) and both weigh close-to-if-not-more-than 230 pounds. Green is supposedly the faster and stronger back so that alone may put him ahead of Smith. No matter who ends up being the starting back, opposing defenses will see a healthy dose of both players bowling over their players.

Regardless of direction, Michigan is set with both their quarterbacks and running backs for the foreseeable future.

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