Running the football was on obvious flaw in last year’s Michigan Wolverines team, which only averaged 125.7 yards per pop. The combination of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green wasn’t pleasing too many people, especially those who wanted to see Green, the more physical back, get more carries. This spring, under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, Green (along with the other backs) is adjusting well to a new scheme and is ready to hit a spurt this season.
It certainly isn’t fair to point a single finger at 2013’s running backs for the lack of production. Blame also rests on the offensive line, which was mostly atrocious last season, but it doesn’t soften the fact that Michigan has struggled with running backs as of late. It’s blatantly clear the Wolverines need something churning in the backfield in order for them to take the next step as a team.
Landing Green was perhaps Brady Hoke‘s biggest recruiting accomplishment at the time. He perfectly fits the style that Hoke wants his team playing, and there’s good skill to be added to that still, but it didn’t fill out a year ago. Maybe it wasn’t given the chance, or perhaps there are a number of other factors all contributing to the same outcome. Whatever the case, numbers don’t lie.
What we’re looking at now is a 2014 season that needs to see much improvement in the ground game. The days of Denard Robinson running all over creation to pick up a first down are over. Sure, Devin Gardner is mobile, but he’s currently recovering from a broken foot because of that. Is that something this program really wants to continue dealing with? The answer has to come in the form of Green, and he’s shaping up to be that solution right now.
Running backs coach Fred Jackson, who was hired by Gary Moeller and has been there since, is seeing the solution unfold this spring, and he thinks it undoubtedly has a lot to do with Nussmeier and his particular approach.
MLive’s Nick Baumgardner reported Jackson as saying:
“I like coach Nussmeier’s approach to everything, how he wants to run the ball, how he understands about the consistency we need every day. I feel really good about it.”
He also said of Green:
“When you think about his speed, you could always run, but now you see flashes of that speed. I see a man who has more confidence because he’s lighter. He’s running with more conviction.”
Nussmeier’s approach to running the football really doesn’t differ from that of the recent past. There isn’t a whole lot of dancing or cuteness — former OC Al Borges did have some cuteness in his play calling at the end of his run with Michgian. It’s about finding the right matchups on the offensive line and attacking. That’s the key, attacking.
The offensive line working in front of Green this season won’t be anything at which to marvel, but it’s certainly expected to get an upgrade, even with the subtractions of Taylor Lewan and David Schofield, who have both gone to the NFL. Michigan won’t be enforcing its will onto many teams this season, but I’m expecting to see some more opportunities open up for the running backs, which will in turn result in better production coming out of the backfield — the ultimate goal.
Seeing as how there is still plenty of competition alongside Green at this point — sophomore De’Veon Smith and senior Justice Hayes are seeing significant action this spring — his position on the depth chart is anything but secure. At the end of the day though, when looking at skill set and optimization, the back who best fits what Michigan is going after is Green, and his adjustment to Nussmeier’s scheme, along with weight loss and experience, will all contribute to his emergence this 2014 season.