Michigan Depth Chart Projection Series: Running Back

Gregory Shamus

In our depth chart projection series, we break down each positional group to see who gets the starting nod and who will provide depth throughout the season. In this edition, the running back position is broken down.

The running back position at Michigan has been a source of inconsistency since the days of Mike Hart bruising and bursting his way through opposing defenses.

The issues and inconsistency continued in 2013. Although it was a mixture of poor running and awful offensive line play, there is plenty of room to improve heading into 2014. Can new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier fix these issues and make Michigan's running back more reliable? That is certainly the goal.

The Players (Listed in order by class)

Freshman (Redshirt) Ross Douglas
Sophomore Ty Isaac
Sophomore Derrick Green
Sophomore De'Veon Smith
Junior (Redshirt) Justice Hayes


When breaking down the backs, the obvious item that stands out the most is the youth right in the middle of chart. Most importantly, talented youth. Three sophomores that include two former five-stars is a huge positive when breaking down the players on paper. The only issue is getting that talent to mesh with the offensive line in order to become successful.

Green, Smith and Hayes are the most experienced backs on the roster. But how does the depth chart break down in terms of playing time? That's the biggest question.

2013 Statistics (If Applicable)

Player Carries Yards AVG. Touchdowns
Derrick Green 83 270 3.3 2
De'Veon Smith 26 117 4.5 0
Ty Isaac (With USC) 40 236 5.9 2
Justice Hayes 2 6 3.0 0


It is a very crowded backfield, but it's also a backfield that does not have a clear frontrunner for the majority of the carries in 2014. In fact, when looking at the statistics broken down (save for Isaac who is a transfer and Ross Douglas is switching to running back,) it truly shows how putrid the Michigan running game was in 2013.

Under Nussmeier, the need for one back to carry the load isn't necessary. So, a 1a 1b situation for starter is probably a fair assumption.

Does Isaac get included in this conversation? Not until the NCAA says so.

2014 Maize n Brew Projected Depth Chart

Starter
1a Derrick Green
1b De'Veon Smith
Depth
Justice Hayes
Ross Douglas
?
Ty Isaac


Green and Smith will see the majority of the carries this season. It's not really breaking news, but the carries should be about even depending on health. The positive in this situation is that Michigan will have continuity with the backs as they grow along with the young Michigan roster. Don't discredit Hayes, though. He will see some time, too. Nussmeier should use his arsenal as often as he can.

Isaac is a question mark. The NCAA has not announced whether he will play this season or redshirt due to NCAA transfer rules. If he plays, that would certainly throw a cog into the system. Isaac will certainly compete for playing time -- and even for starting time as well. As for now, he will be listed as doubtful to receive his waiver.

EDITORS NOTE: By an unfortunate mistake, Drake Johnson was not included on the depth chart. He will get his chance to be discussed below. Although Johnson is recovering from a major knee injury, his playing time could be limited as he gets back into playing form. If you think about it, it's been almost a calendar year since his injury. He hurt his knee against Central Michigan. With his recovery, he should see time and get some carries as the season progresses. As a running back, knee injuries aren't exactly the easiest to recover from and get back.

Three Big Questions

1. Could Michigan see two 1000-yard rushers this season?

It's always a possibility, but at this point in time it is highly unlikely. One back may have better stats than the other, but I don't see the offensive line gelling that much to be THAT successful on the ground. There is a better chance to see one 1000-yard rusher compared to two.

2. Does Ross Douglas see meaningful time?

I don't see it this year. Making the transition from defensive back to running back isn't exactly a huge one, but seeing meaningful playing time for Douglas might be difficult. Although he has used a redshirt year and is eligible to play, seeing garbage time minutes is a very likely possibility and it can definitely help him become better.

3. Do you think these running backs will be involved in the passing game?

Indeed, that is a definite yes. In fact, Hayes could be the best option in the passing game. Norfleet could've been an option here, but him being more of a slot receiver doesn't apply here (obviously.) A pass-catching back can be very lethal if done correctly, if (big if) Isaac can play this season he could fill that "dangerous" role.

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