- Terra Molengraff/Daily
By Matt Slovin, Managing Editor
Published October 8, 2013
Time and time again this offseason, the Michigan coaching staff said that Fitzgerald Toussaint was looking “like the old Fitz.”
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Thus far, an inexperienced offensive line has prevented Toussaint from fully demonstrating just how recovered he actually is from a horrific leg injury that cut his season short a year ago. But there have been times — mostly in Michigan’s last two games, in which Toussaint has averaged at least 4.6 yards per carry — when he has exemplified the Wolverines’ new power running game.
But Toussaint will be at his best when he doesn’t have to handle the entire workload out of the backfield. For example, against Connecticut, offensive coordinator Al Borges said Toussaint was “running out of gas” by the end of the game.
Luckily for the offense, this doesn’t have to be a one-man show.
Waiting in the wings is Michigan’s No. 2 tailback, freshman Derrick Green, whom Borges described as “a load” during his Tuesday press conference. And that’s the perfect way to describe the top-ranked running back in the high-school class of 2013.
Green’s former coach at Hermitage (Va.) High School, Patrick Kane, burst out laughing upon hearing Borges’s assessment.
“That’s pretty good,” Kane said. “He’s a big dude. He moves extremely well and has quick feet.”
Saturday against Minnesota, the 240-pound Green carried the ball 10 times — his most since the opener against Central Michigan when he rushed 11 times for 58 yards and also scored his first collegiate touchdown. Green’s yards per carry average against Minnesota was just 2.3, down from 5.3 against Central Michigan, though he did score again.
“He didn’t have big numbers,” Borges said. “He had a couple nice runs. He powered the ball inside at the 2-yard line (for a touchdown), which was good.
“It was a good starting point against a Big Ten opponent, and he got a few carries.”
Against the Chippewas, Green entered the game when the outcome had long since been decided. But he got carries against the Golden Gophers early — a sign the coaching staff has come to trust him to take some of the weight off of Toussaint’s shoulders. Never was that more evident than late in the game against the Golden Gophers, when the coaching staff put the ball in Green’s hands and trusted he wouldn’t fumble.
Playing second fiddle to Toussaint isn’t something Green is accustomed to, though Kane, his high-school coach, called him a “team guy,” adding that individual stats have never mattered much to him.
Kane said Michigan was the perfect fit for Green because the timing of his commitment coincided with the program’s re-installation of the pro-style offense (“That’s his cup of tea,” Kane said). Being the downhill running back that he is, Green knew he’d be able to contribute immediately.
As the season begins to take its toll on Toussaint, having Green in the mix will be a luxury for Borges, who noted the freshman has come a long way during the last few weeks of practice.
But as for what role Green will play going forward, aside from that of sidekick to Toussaint, Borges was hesitant. He said that he was happy to get Green 10 carries, but noted that keeping him on a set number of snaps per game wouldn’t be productive.
“Sometimes, if he’s rolling, it could maybe be even more than that,” Borges said. “I always like the featured back, but we were almost overfeaturing Fitz because of the way the games were going.
“To get another kid in there to see what he can do, particularly a talented kid like that, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’ll never put a number on how many carries he’s got to have.”
Borges called Green a “work in progress,” which is to be expected for a freshman, even one who came in as highly touted as Green. But as the coaches become more comfortable with him, his carries will come, and they’ll be in key situations when the team needs yards.