Going into the 2015 campaign, there seems to be plenty of talent in what is a crowded Michigan Wolverine backfield. Between Derrick Green, De'Veon Smith, Drake Johnson, and transfer Ty Isaac, Jim Harbaugh and new running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley have plenty of options to help them try to produce the school's first 1,000 yard rusher since 2011.
The Wolverines will be looking for improvements in consistency in a backfield that was anything but that last season, as well as staying healthy. Green, Smith, and Johnson were the three featured backs for the Wolverines last season, and the Wolverines saw injuries to Green in week six, and to Johnson against Ohio State in week 12. If the team in maize and blue can find health and consistency, the only way they can go in the 2015 season is up.
"There will be plenty of opportunity for 1, 2, 3 of our running backs to assert themselves, come to the fore, and be counted on," said Harbaugh. "That we will be watching very closely and hoping that occurs early here in camp."
Although it appears to be nearly even across the board for all the backs to win significant time, Green appears to be a frontrunner, after coming into Michigan in 2013 with high expectations. In his sophomore campaign in 2014, Green rushed for 471 yards on just 82 carries before injuring his shoulder against Rutgers in week six. His best games came against Appalachian State and Miami (OH), where he rushed for 170 and 137 yards respectively. However, Green failed to eclipse 75 yards in his other four games against better competition. If Green is able to find health and become consistent, his odds are great to take the bulk of the carries.
The other Michigan back with perhaps higher expectations than others is USC transfer Ty Isaac. Isaac hasn't played since his freshman season with the Trojans in 2013, but showed promise in the time he received that year. The most carries he received in a game that season was 11, when he rushed for 87 yards against Cal. He also stands out from all of the other Wolverine backs with his size, coming in at 6'3", and 240 pounds. If he can't overcome Green, Isaac would make a great complement to him.
In comes De'Veon Smith, the man that Isaac could be potentially replacing. Smith took over the load for Michigan after Green went down against Rutgers, but did not show much promise in the action that he received. The redshirt junior had just one game where he rushed over 40 yards, and that was against Northwestern where he ran for 121 yards on 18 carries. After his poor performances, Smith saw just three carries in the season finale against Ohio State.
Drake Johnson, another redshirt junior showed promise towards the end of the season, rushing for 320 yards in the Wolverines' final four games, which included a two touchdown, 122 yard performance against Indiana. Johnson also had a near 100-yard performance against Maryland, and rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns before tearing his ACL against Ohio State. The key for Johnson will be to see just how well he is able to recover from his ACL tear, which is the second one he has had in the same knee.
Although there appears to be some faults and a lack of consistency in the Michigan backfield, they have plenty of options which could set the tone for their entire season. The Wolverines also bring back an experienced offensive line that should help the production by whoever gets the ball on a given play. Many feel that this is the year for Green, and plenty of fans in Ann Arbor are excited about what Isaac could possibly bring to their program. With Smith and Johnson to go along with the two aforementioned backs, Michigan should be able to figure out a running game that hasn't seen a great feature back since Mike Hart.