ANN ARBOR, Mich.
Michigan’s top rusher last season was its quarterback and with Denard Robinson’s college career now over, the Wolverines’ offense will look a lot different in the future.
Enter running backs De’Veon Smith — a Howland High product — and Derrick Green, who both signed with Michigan on Wednesday as part of coach Brady Hoke’s 27-man recruiting class. Expectations are high for Green — the nation’s top-ranked running back recruit, according to Scout.com — but the staff is eager to see what Smith can do as well.
“I think with Derrick and De’Veon, you have two very physical runners,” Hoke said. “Both of them, though, have a very good instinct, and when I say that, I think they’ve got good vision and good balance, can break tackles. That’s something that we felt we would need.”
Green, a Richmond, Va. product, scored over 20 touchdowns as both a junior and a senior in high school. Smith ran for 6,750 yards for the Tigers.
The Wolverines lose Robinson, and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint — a Liberty High graduate — is recovering after breaking his left leg in mid-November. That leaves some immediate opportunities for other running backs, although Hoke said that wasn’t a big part of his recruiting pitch.
“When you recruit, you can make a mistake telling a guy, ‘You’re going to do this, you’re going to do that.’ We don’t do that,” Hoke said. “We obviously educate them on where we’re at and what we’re trying to do. I think we educate them on how we’re going to play and the competition that will always be there if you have a good program.”
Green and Smith are both 5-foot-11. They weigh 220 and 218 pounds. Running backs coach Fred Jackson says size is important for the position.
“Watch the national championship game and see how Notre Dame attacked those two big 230-pounders — and see who got hit,” Jackson said. “With big backs, it’s going to help us be a better football team.”
Jackson also expressed confidence in Toussaint’s return after seeing him recently.
“I saw him running around early in the morning — I was shocked,” Jackson said. “I mean, the kid had a broken leg. Ten years ago, that probably wouldn’t be the case, but he was running around the other day, and I don’t know if they had him cutting, but he was running around. To me, that’s got to be tremendous progress.”
Scout ranked Michigan the No. 2 recruiting class in the country, behind only rival Ohio State. Alabama was No. 3, one of six Southeastern Conference teams in the top 10 as of Wednesday afternoon.
“This is all competition — we live our lives in competition,” Hoke said. “Yes, these are the kind of classes we would like to have on a year-to-year basis.”
The class was made up primarily of Midwesterners, including nine prospects from Ohio.
“That 350 to 400-mile radius is always going to be important for us. This state is always going to be important for us. The state of Ohio, Chicago — those are going to be very important areas for us,” Hoke said. “We are always going to be in national recruiting because we are a national brand. It changes yearly. We took nine guys out of the state of Ohio. Ohio was pretty good this year when you look at the top-tier talent that was there.”