ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Expectations were high for freshmen running backs De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green heading into the 2013 season.
Arriving at Michigan with high star ratings and what looked like a terrific opportunity to help the Wolverines rushing attack right away, the first year on campus for both Smith and Green was anything but what they had hoped.
Green, the No. 1 overall running back recruit in the country coming out of high school, came into camp overweight at 240 pounds, roughly 20 pounds heavier than his playing weight during his senior season at Hermitage (Va.) in 2012. With the added weight Green struggled to see the field and gain the trust of former offensive coordinator Al Borges carrying the ball just 82 times for 265 yards with two touchdowns.
For Smith, his first season was a struggle for a multitude of reasons. Unable to attain the backup role coming out of camp, Smith was often on the outside looking in behind senior Fitzgerald Toussaint and his classmate Green.
Midway through the season Smith was left off the travel roster for the Wolverines trip to East Lansing, a message sent by Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
Following his stay at home for Michigan’s loss at Michigan State, a light seemed to come on for Smith and despite carrying the ball just 22 times for 110-yards all season, his longest run of the year came in the final regular season game against Ohio State, a 38-yard rush down the right sideline.
Similar debut seasons and now similar builds with Green down to 5-foot-11, 220-pounds and Smith at 5-foot-11, 223-pounds, both now sit near the top of Michigan’s running back depth chart and appear to be the best fits for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s downhill running approach.
“Coach Borges to me was more of a pass first, run second (coach),” Smith said. “Coach Nussmeier is more of a run first, pass second type.”
“(We’re) just out there ready to punch, hit the hold hard and fast and try not to get tackled,” Smith added.
Green, a bruiser similar to Smith, is very happy with the offensive approach.
“I’d definitely say this is a lot more downhill which is what I like,” Green said. “I think that’d be the biggest thing. And also he’s (Coach Nussmeier) real fundamental in pass protection.”
Under Nussmeier Alabama’s offense boasted two 1,000-yard rushers in his first season in Tuscaloosa, Eddy Lacy rushed for 1,322-yards and then freshman T.J. Yeldon piled up 1,108-yards. Yeldon followed that up with a sophomore campaign featuring 1,235-yards, Nussmeier’s last with the Crimson Tide.
Now in Ann Arbor, Nussmeier’s schemes cater to a two back system, something relatively unwanted in previous seasons at Michigan.
“That’s what Coach Nussmeier’s about, having that one-two punch,” Green said. “I feel like we could definitely do that.”
While the competition on the field remains intense, Green actually noting he hopes to be the ‘one’ in that ‘one-two punch,’ off the field the two backs are forging a friendship despite differing personalities.
“I feel like my presence like when I walk into Schembechler, I’m always smiling,” Smith said. “I’m always laughing about something.”
On the competition Smith added, “It’s fun. I like competing with him a lot actually. He comes to my room and we’re actually really good friends.
“We talk about it, whenever one of us has a bad play or we miss a blocking assignment we go over it and help each other out.”
Regardless of who wins out in the competition for the starting spot in the backfield, Green says he and the Wolverines are a unit moving forward together as one.
“The competition is real good,” Green said. “It’s going to push me and him even harder in practice to give us our all.
“At the end of the day we love each other, we’re brothers but competition is what is going to make this team better and drive us.”