The 2013 season ended before it really began for redshirt sophomore running back Drake Johnson.
After being redshirted his freshman year and expected to see his workload increase greatly, he tore his ACL in the first game of the season against Central Michigan and missed another year of production. Now, healthy and stronger than ever, Johnson is back to prove he belongs.
"I think any time you get injuries, especially season ending injuries, it sucks," said Johnson during Michigan's media day. "It's not an experience you don't necessarily want to happen, but I think coming back has helped me as a player and made me stronger. Coming back to where we are now, a year later, however stronger I was in camp last year I need to be that much stronger this year."
Not only has Johnson come back stronger in camp, he also has emerged on the depth chart as a potential starter, according to Michigan head coach Brady Hoke.
"I'm going to tell you right now that it's (starting running backs) Drake Johnson and De'Veon (Smith,)" said Hoke. "Derrick Green has been running with the two's."
Even though the door is certainly wide open for Johnson to take away the starting role from the likes of Green and Smith, he isn't the only one pushing hard to get playing time. Regardless of the role he receives, Johnson is going to work hard.
"I think I'm pushing hard regardless. Where it be for the first spot, second spot, anything. I think all of us pushing equally hard to get the starting spot," said Johnson. "That's just a testament to the competition in the room, there's a ton of it. The running back corps as a whole, bring each other along."
"I think the teammate dynamic is really going to help us and I think it really does help the competition in the room and makes for a stronger unit. Depth chart wise it just matters on what the coaches say, but we're going to be prepared for the position."
The 2014 season not only brings a clean slate health-wise for Johnson, it also brings a new offensive perspective with the hiring of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Like any new offense being installed, the first few weeks will provide a fairly difficult transition with new terminology and plays needing to be learned.
For Johnson, the transition from Al Borges to Nussmeier has been relatively smooth.
"Any transition is going to be a transition coming from coordinator to coordinator. I think the transition itself was smooth, just learning the offense you had to learn it," said Johnson. "When learning an offense, there are going to be some times where you're frustrated and times when you're going to be confused. I think the transition went pretty well in terms of learning protections, run plays and pass routes."
Big run plays were few and far between in 2013, that responsibility mainly fell on the offensive line's inability to maintain their blocks. With Hoke looking to nail down his starting five on the offensive line sometime in the coming week, Johnson notes that chemistry on the offensive line has improved dramatically.
"I think that they have been doing a great job, the offensive line as a whole has become very tight-knit. Their chemistry has gone through the roof since last year," said Johnson. "They have this amazing connection and helping each other become better every single day of camp and that's just a matter of spending a lot more time together as a team that's really going to help us."