Derrick Green

Michigan’s Tyrone Wheatley describes his ideal running back

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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.

2015 could be the year of the running back in college football

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College football has been a game for quarterbacks over the last decade or so, but the 2015 college football season could be a big one for the running backs. The young running backs that have taken the big stage during the 2014 season have shown glimpses of what could be one of the finest seasons for fans of the running game in quite some time.

Just look at some of the names coming back to line up in the back field with authority in 2015.

Now a couple of years removed from the SEC’s best quarterback class in some time, the SEC should be heavy on the run in 2015. The SEC’s leading rusher returning in 2015 will be Georgia’s Nick Chubb for his sophomore season, and LSU freshman Leonard Fournette could also be worthy of striking his Heisman pose. Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and an SEC-leading 14 touchdowns this season, and most of that came while backing up Todd Gurley until he went down to injury. Fournette also rushed for over 1,000 yards, including 143 yards in a bowl game loss against Notre Dame. If you need more running power from the SEC, look no further than Arkansas with sophomore Alex Collins. Collins is coming off a 1,100-yard season with 12 touchdowns and should be a big piece of the offense for Bret Bielema in 2015. If there is one thing Bielema knows how to do, it is run the football. With Collins on the field, Arkansas will do just that. Alabama will look for a big year from  too. Henry was 10 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season but he did rush for 11 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide.

Up north, the Big Ten should continue to see plenty of production on the ground. In 2014 the Big Ten running game was the story with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon earning a nod as Heisman finalist and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah a household name. But the Big Ten also saw great seasons from Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Minnesota’s David Cobb and Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford. The Big Ten will lose all of these players to the draft, but there are some talented running backs ready to pick up the steam. Right now there is no hotter name among young running backs than Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, who turned in a postseason run worthy of Mr. January consideration. Wisconsin has Corey Clement ready to be the next running back in line in Madison. Two other sophomores to keep an eye on in the Big Ten will be Michigan’s Derrick Green, who could have a big impact if he bounces back healthy in 2015, and Penn State’s Akeel Lynch if the Nittany Lions firm up on offensive line.

Move just west of Penn State and you may find the best running back in the state with Pittsburgh’s James Conner. The sophomore led the ACC in rushing with 1,765 yards and his 26 touchdowns were twice more than the ACC’s next leading rushing touchdown leader, Boston College’s Jon Hilliman (a freshman). Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could have a huge role in 2015 as well.

Out west it is easy to get caught up in the quarterback action in the Pac-12. This year was certainly the case with players like Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, but next year could see some big years from running backs as well. Paul Perkins of UCLA led the Pac-12 in rushing with 1,575 yards this season and will be back in 2015. So will Arizona’s Nick Wilson, the conference’s fourth-leading rusher as a freshman, and Oregon’s Royce Freeman. Freeman did not have a great championship game against Ohio State, but he should take on a heavy load without Mariota leading the offense in 2015.

The pass-happy Big 12 is not without some impact running backs in 2015 either. Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine led the Big 12 with 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns as a freshman in 2014. Baylor’s Shock Linwood was second in the Big 12  as a sophomore with 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns. West Virginia’s Rushel Shell is also capable of doing some major damage if the Mountaineers have more faith in him.

Quarterbacks will likely remain the face of many programs, but the 2015 season could be a huge season for the running backs.

Michigan RB Drake Johnson tears left ACL for second time

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Michigan running back Drake Johnson tore his left ACL while scoring a touchdown against Ohio State on Saturday. It is the second time in as many seasons Johnson injured his left ACL.

Johnson tore his left ACL on special teams coverage in the 2013 season opener against Central Michigan, forcing him to sit out the remainder of the season before it ever really got started. Johnson went through the rehab process and was able to return to the running back stable in time for the 2014 season. He appeared in all 12 games for Michigan this season, finishing the year third on the team in rushing with 361 yards and four touchdowns. The highlight of Johnson’s 2014 season may have been his 122-yard and two touchdown performance against Indiana, a 34-10 victory on November 1.

Johnson became a bigger part of the running game in the second half of the season following an injury to Derrick Green. Green broke his clavicle to keep him out for Michigan’s final six games, providing Johnson a chance to contribute alongside De’Veon Smith, Michigan’s leading rusher at the end of the season.

The timeline for Johnson’s next rehab is unknown at this time. Being ready for the start of the 2015 season may not be out of the question with today’s rehab procedures and treatments, although this injury very likely prevents him from participating in spring football practices.

Michigan running game needs help after losing Derrick Green for 2014

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Michigan head coach Brady Hoke announced Monday running back Derrick Green has suffered a broken clavicle. The injury will keep him out of action for the remainder of the 2014 season and explains why he was left off the depth chart for this weekend’s game against Penn State.

Without Green, a player who had been showing promise this season, Michigan will need to find ways to run the football that do not necessarily revolve around quarterback Devin Gardner. Gardner has returned to the starting job under center after the injury to Shane Morris, and Hoke is ready to continue having Gardner lead the offense as long as he is healthy. If the Wolverines are going to turn things around this season and make a run to a postseason bowl game, the running game needs to improve.

Michigan will start this week ranked seventh in the Big Ten in rushing offense with an average of 180.83 yards per game and an average of 5.05 yards per rushing attempt. Green ends his season having led the Wolverines with 471 yards and three touchdowns. He was taking nearly double the number of rushing attempts per game than Michigan’s second-leading rusher, De’Veon Smith. The Wolverines will move forward with Smith trying to carry the bulk of the running game, but there will be times when Gardner runs the football as well. This should frustrate Michigan fans, because Gardner running the football has not exactly panned out for Michigan in terms of wins. Sure, Gardner may rack up some big numbers, but in the end this looks as though the Wolverines continue to try pushing a square peg through a round hole.

Justice Hayes and Drake Johnson are listed as Michigan’s back-up running backs behind Smith this week. The two have combined for 129 yards 22 combined rushing attempts so far this season. The depth at running back has become an issue that may not have been expected at the start of the season.

RB Derrick Green not on Michigan depth chart

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Devin Gardner will be Michigan’s starting quarterback this week against Penn State, but the updated depth chart appears to be missing a rather significant name on offense. Running back Derrick Green was not listed on the depth chart for this week’s Big Ten match-up between Michigan and Penn State.

Green was Michigan’s leading rusher in the loss to Rutgers. He rushed for 74 yards, but did not touch the football again after rushing for a 21-yard gain on Michigan’s next-to-last offensive possession of the game.This likely means Green suffered an injury against Rutgers. One report suggests Green suffered a broken collarbone, but there has not been any confirmation from Michigan about that at this time.

Green has been emerging in Michigan’s offense in recent weeks, so his absence is not to be taken for granted. He moved up the depth chart leading up to the start of the season and without Green available the Wolverines will look for any way to avoid having Gardner take the lead in the ground attack against Penn State.

UPDATE (2:20 p.m. ET): Michigan head coach Brady Hoke announced Green suffered a broken clavicle. The injury will sideline Green for the remainder of the 2014 seaosn.