ANN ARBOR -- Michigan’s desire to find one workhorse running back to carry the ball 20-25 times appeared to become a reality in 2011 after Fitz Toussaint broke out for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns. Now, through six spring practices, the running back situation remains clouded and the answer might not be unveiled until the Wolverines strap on the helmets against Central Michigan in the 2013 season opener.
Fitz Toussaint struggled to build on his productive sophomore year, rushing for just 514 yards and five touchdowns in nine games before breaking his leg against Iowa in November. The always reliable Vincent Smith isn’t walking through the doors of Schembechler Hall anymore, leaving junior Thomas Rawls, redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes, sophomore Dennis Norfleet, and redshirt freshman Drake Johnson to split carries this spring.
“Just run them and see what they do,” said Borges on his approach. “That sounds simple but just keep running them and see how they do. Make sure that they’re fairly balanced with regard to how many carries they get, try to get them behind good offensive lines so they can show their skills.
“Not everyone can run behind the first line every play but I try to keep it balanced of who they play with and how much they carry the ball and I think after 15 days of spring you’ll have a pretty good idea who your best one is.”
The Michigan backfield will become even more crowded when highly touted freshmen Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith make the permanent move to Ann Arbor in June -- only heightening the need for one back to outshine the others to get the most carries come fall.
“Even after spring it’s going to be competitive,” said Borges. “We’re not eliminating anybody unless they demonstrate they can’t play the position and I haven’t seen any of that.”
So far, no one from the inexperienced group has separated themselves.
“They’re all about playing the same,” said Borges. “One day one looks pretty good, the next day the other looks pretty good, and sometimes it is predicated on who’s blocking for them.
“If I just told you this guy is the starting tailback right now -- no. That wouldn’t be fair to everybody else.”
Tight ends looking to become well rounded
On top of inexperience, Michigan, now sophomore tight ends, Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams were very limited in the roles they could in the offense as freshmen in 2012. Now with a year under their belt, a full winter of conditioning and strength training, the two very different, yet very important pieces to the Wolverine offense are looking to spend the spring and summer becoming a little bit more like one another.
Williams, at 6-6 and 265 pounds, appears to be a sixth offensive lineman, possessing the size and physicality necessary to impact the game, blocking. But Borges is looking for more out of the Cincinnati native, and he knows the skills are there.
“His greatest asset that he contributes to this team is his ability to block,” said Borges. “But, we want all of our tight ends to be as multi-dimensional as their skills allow. So if it means catching a few more passes, which we’d like to see him do, we’re working on that.
“Not that he’s going to be the next Tony Gonzalez, we’re not necessarily going to do that but we don’t want him to be a glorified tackle either.”
Funchess burst onto the scene in 2012, catching 15 passes for 234 yards and five touchdowns in five starts. At 6-5, 228 pounds, Funchess brings the big play ability in the passing game with mitts for hands and terrific ball skills.
“Devin, on the flip side, is a better receiving tight end and we’re trying to improve his blocking more,” said Borges. “And get him more involved, more and more involved in our passing game because that’s the skill set he brings to the table.”