With the arrival of first year head coach Jim Harbaugh comes a rhinoceros charging running game that has yet to be seen in Ann Arbor since 2011, when Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Four years later, no Michigan running back has yet to surpass the 1,000 yards mark.
During Brady Hoke's final year at Michigan, the program ranked 62nd in the nation in rushing totals per game (162.8). In 2013, the Wolverines finished 102nd in the same category (125.7).
Harbaugh has had a profound reputation of bringing an intense and consistent rushing attack, whether it'd be with Toby Gerhart at Stanford or Frank Gore in San Francisco. The revival of the old school ground-and-pound scheme from the Bo Schembechler heyday should translate to the four running backs on the depth chart this fall who each have starter potential.
In this installment of Maize n Brew's football position previews, we take a look at the running backs and fullbacks.
Junior Derrick Green
5-11 | 234 lbs. | Hermitage HS | Richmond, Va.
A video from Bleacher Report was published the summer before last season, projecting Green to be "dancing around" the 1,000 yard mark while reaching the end zone at least 10 times. Through six games of the 2014 campaign, Green served as the go-to option at tailback under former offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who was in need of a reliable ball carrier as inconsistency at quarterback continued to be the weekly storyline.
Throughout the month of September, Green served as the team's leading rusher before missing the rest of the season with a broken clavicle, suffered in the fourth quarter against Rutgers on Oct. 4. Prior to the injury, Green recorded 471 yards on the ground and three touchdowns on 82 carries, that includes a 170 yard performance in the season opener against Appalachian State.
Green comes into his third season at Michigan with the most experience among any running back on the roster, having played 19 games and was on track towards significant improvement from his freshman year, where he backed up Toussaint, rushing for just 270 yards and two touchdowns on 83 carries.
247Sports ranked Green as the No. 5 most talented running back and No. 27 overall prospect in the country. And even while being picked as the preseason All-Big Ten running back by Phil Steele, the hype was short lived as the then true freshman came into camp 20 pounds overweight, adding on to the list of disappointments.
Speculation about Green's issues about his weight appear to be over, as he added 14 pounds of muscle before spring practice. A more leaner and healthier physique should give Green an advantage when it comes to the final decision for the starting job before the Sept. 3 opener at Utah. Improving on his ability to find an open hole better and vision would also do wonders for the bruising ball carrier.
RS Sophomore Ty Isaac
6-3 | 240 lbs. | Joliet Catholic Academy | Shorewood, Ill.
It's been more than a year since Issac received a carry in a regular season game, Dec. 21 to be exact in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, when he gained 44 yards on eight carries against Fresno State. As a true freshman playing under Lane Kiffin at Southern Cal, Isaac would serve as a reserve behind Silas Reed and Javorius Allen, touching the ball 40 times and scoring just twice over the course of the 2013 season.
Michigan was a front runner for Isaac's services during his recruitment, but ultimately signed his letter of intent with USC, despite the Trojans continuing to feel the setbacks from the imposed sanctions brought forward back in 2010. His appeal to play immediately after transferring to Michigan last year was denied by the NCAA, meaning that Isaac was unable to participate to games and only allowed to practice.
Finishing up his NCAA transfer mandated year requirements, Isaac is the newest addition to the already loaded running back position, poised to compete for the starting job with Green. At 240 pounds, Issac is the largest one amongst the group, whether that'll give him an advantage in preseason camp remains to be seen, but running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley has said that Isaac has great feet and great vision.
The issue with discussing Isaac's stardom potential at Michigan is that there isn't enough film to evaluate his skills as a collegiate athletic, considering that the former five-star recruit carried the ball just once during Michigan's spring game because of injuries. However, Isaac has proven that he can run the ball, based on his 4,129 rushing yards and 64 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Joliet Collegiate Academy (Illinois).
Three years of eligibility remaining is huge for Isaac, in case his first year is spent splitting carries with Green, De'Veon Smith and Drake Johnson as a backup. Both Green and Smith have more experience, but a strong preseason camp will increase his stock.
At the very least, Isaac's wish of being closer to his mother has been granted, a reason why he transferred to Ann Arbor.
Junior De'Veon Smith
5-11 | 228 lbs. | Howland HS | Warren, Ohio
Looking at Smith's highlight film back when he was a four-star prospect and one of the top recruits from the state of Ohio, this man was an unstoppable force out of the backfield. Agile, powerful and disruptive, the perfect traits to fit the mold of the "Michigan Man" persona.
When Green went down to injury following the loss to Rutgers in Piscataway, the starting reigns were handed down to Smith, after spending the first five games carrying the ball 7.4 times per game. But whatever pressure Smith felt after the promotion terminated any signs of him developing into an every down running back, because in the final six games of the season, Smith surpassed the 40 yard mark just once against Northwestern. Smith would eventually split carries with Drake Johnson before the season concluded.
Hoke described Smith as someone who would rather run you over rather than play tag or try to make you miss. But actions speak louder than words, and if Smith doesn't have a stellar camp, his days of being Robin to Green's Batman are finished.
RS Junior Drake Johnson
6-0 | 207 lbs. | Pioneer HS | Ann Arbor, Mich
A giant question marks hovers around Johnson before he enters his fourth year at Michigan. ACL tears can ruin a player's career, just ask former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, and being that Johnson and Lattimore play the same position, whatever time he spends on the field this season will be done cautiously.
Johnson was arguably the lone bright spot in the latter half of the 2014 campaign. Johnson quickly became a fan favorite during Michigan's win over Indiana when he rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. He would later go on to score two more touchdowns in the final week against Ohio State before tearing his ACL for the second time in his career.
The local Ann Arbor product was back on the practice field late this past month, but it's not a definite guarantee that he'll be in full health for the season opener. For the time being, the absence of Johnson softens the competition for the starting job, which should do wonders for the other three.
RS Senior Joe Kerridge
6-0 | 249 lbs. | St. Francis HS | Traverse City, Mich
When you establish a heavy running game like the one Harbaugh is implementing this season, it's important that you have a reliable, hard hitting fullback to open up holes for your playmakers. Enter Kerridge, a behemoth of an athlete who is expected to play the role as the riot shield for whoever wins the starting role. Appearing in 36 games while making 10 starts in four seasons at fullback, Kerridge carried the ball three times for 56 yards last season, including a 52 yard run against Maryland. He also possesses the ability to catch the ball, recording six receptions for 53 yards.
Other RBs: Wyatt Shallman (RS Sophomore | Hartland, Mich.); Karan Higdon (3-star commit | Sarasota, Fla.); Antonio Whitfield (Junior | Canal Winchester, Ohio)
Other FBs: Sione Houma (Senior | Salt Lake City, Utah); Brady Pallante (Sophomore | Naples, Fla.)