Former Michigan running back Tyrone Wheatly is back in Ann Arbor this season. The former Wolverine is a running backs coach for Jim Harbaugh, and he is getting to work on figuring out how to get the most out of the running game in 2015 as the Wolverines have opened spring practices. As he gets acclimated to his new position on the staff, he is taking the spring to evaluate what he has to work with before making any hard decisions with Harbaugh.
Michigan has a good stable of running backs, which adds USC transfer Ty Isaac and welcomes back Derrick Green from a collarbone injury this season. With some talented options to work with, Wheatley says he is unsure just how the ball will be distributed this fall.
“You would like to say you want one back, but right now you really can’t tell,” Wheatley said in an interview published by Michigan’s athletics website. “We don’t know who’s going to emerge; we don’t know what’s going to emerge. You want great competition and every one to rise to the top. You want the decision to be the hardest decision to ever make.”
The decision may be a difficult one by the end of the spring, but Wheatley did expand on the characteristics he is hoping to see from his most ideal running back.
“A smart guy that handles not only the ball but can handle the game. Meaning that the game never gets too big, and that he can basically be a coach on the field, make corrections, see the game and make the game slow down for himself, understand the ebb and flow, situations,” Wheatley explained. “Sometimes a three-yard run is the best one you can have in a game — not always looking to hit the home run. And pass protection — just a real well-rounded back that is going to play within his talent level and take care and manage the game.”
Does Michigan have a running back that meets that criteria? It would seem so.
In a year that could be huge for running backs, Michigan has two players potentially worthy of national recognition. Green is a former five-star recruit. His season was brought to a premature end when he broke his collarbone in a game against Rutgers. He has returned to practice this spring and has put in some good early work according to Wheatley. Isaac is also a former five-star recruit who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Drake Johnson is recovering from knee surgery but is using his time on the sideline to observe and learn. And do not forget about De’Veon Smith, last season’s leading rusher. He could still fill a role in the running game as well.
Wheatley says there is pressure to get the running backs going this spring, but there is no pressure now to figure out which running back, if any, will be the one that carries the bulk of the action in the fall. He has plenty to evaluate before getting to that point.