At one point, Thomas Rawls was getting nothing but rave reviews from the Michigan Wolverines coaching staff. Coming out of fall camp in 2011 as a freshman, he was drawing comparisons to Mark Ingram who had just won a Heisman Trophy for the Alabama Crimson Tide. But could a lackluster 2012 and increased competition in 2013 spell the end for Rawls’ hopes of cracking the starting lineup for Michigan?
The 5-foot-10, 218-pound junior had a great opportunity in 2012 to earn more playing time, but he let it slip through his fingers. When starter Fitz Toussaint was suspended for the first game and injured for the final two, Rawls was the primary go-to guy for his carries. He also received plenty of looks when Toussaint struggled during the season as Brady Hoke looked for a spark in the running game. All he was able to do with that opportunity, however, was rush for 242 yards on 57 carries in eight games, scoring four touchdowns.
Rawls just couldn’t seem to do the little things well enough to stay on the field. He struggled in pass blocking and couldn’t even find success in goal-line situations, where his physical, between-the-tackles running style should have been money. He is under a lot of pressure to show he has improved this spring and he’ll once again have the opportunity with Toussaint out with an injury and super-prospect Derrick Green added to the mix this August.
There likely won’t be room for Toussaint, Green and Rawls in the offensive gameplan next season as all three have a similar running style, with Green bringing a very similar powerful and big-bodied mentality as Rawls. Speedy tailbacks like Justice Hayes and Dennis Norfleet will be working to earn reps as the “change-of-pace” back, so Rawls has to establish himself in the pecking order of primary runners.
If Rawls struggles this spring and doesn’t have an impressive performance in the Michigan spring game, he can forget about surpassing Toussaint (which would be a tall task to begin with) and will likely end up getting passed on the depth chart by Green during fall camp. How much impact can the fourth or fifth running back option have on a season? Thomas Rawls could end up finding out.