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Notebook: Running back battle looks evenly matched through first half of Spring practice

BY JOE STAPLETON
Daily Sports Editor
Published April 7, 2010

While depth is a concern at most positions for the Michigan football team, running back is not one of them.

The Wolverines lost Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown — the team’s two leading ballcarriers last year with 96 and 81 carries, respectively — but they still have plenty of talent at the position.

As of now, sophomore Mike Cox and junior Michael Shaw are splitting the majority of the reps with the first team. Shaw is more experienced and had 29 more carries last year than Cox, but Cox made the most of his opportunities — his 8.7 yards per carry led the team.

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said on Tuesday that the two front-runners are relatively even.

“Mike Cox has been pretty solid,” Rodriguez said. “Mike Shaw has had a couple really good days and a couple days where we expected more out of him, but he’s worked extremely hard.”

Shaw and Cox are merely two parts of what should be an impressive running back triumvirate with the addition of Vincent Smith, who tore his ACL in Michigan's final game last season and has been limited in spring practice so far.

On top of that, even the freshmen are making an impression.

Rodriguez said freshman Stephen Hopkins and redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint are coming into their own and could play a significant role in the offense.

“Stephen Hopkins is a big guy, and we needed a big back with (Brandon) Minor and (Kevin) Grady graduating,” Rodriguez said. “And I think, even as a true freshman coming in early, is going to help him get some chances to play some in that role. ... (Toussaint) has had a very productive spring, I think he’s gotten bigger and stronger, and his grasp of the offense gets better each practice.”

Rodriguez also mentioned that the coaching staff has been rotating some of the slot receivers to running back — redshirt junior Kelvin Grady and redshirt sophomore Terrence Robinson, in particular.

Safeties: Asked to characterize the situation at the safety position, Rodriguez had one word:

“Ongoing.”

Rodriguez said redshirt freshman Cameron Gordon, who was switched from wide receiver to safety, was performing very well in his debut at the position.

“There’s no question that move was one of the better moves we’ve made, personnel-wise,” Rodriguez said. “I think he’s a natural there.”

Sophomore Vlad Emilien’s sprained knee has hurt the team’s depth, but Rodriguez has confidence in redshirt sophomore Jordan Kovacs’s ability to play either safety position.

Still, Rodriguez said “comfortable” wouldn’t be the word to describe the Wolverines’ situation at safety.

“We have concerns at the safety position,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not a position where we feel solid at the two-deep.”

Injuries: Redshirt junior Will Heininger tore his ACL in practice last week and will undergo surgery. Rodriguez speculated that the defensive end may be able to return by late September or early October.

Junior wideouts Martavious Odoms and Junior Hemingway are both working their way back into practice after being out most of the spring, and hope to be at full strength by the week's end. Sophomore wide receiver Je’Ron Stokes, who injured his ankle two weeks ago, also hopes to be back by then.

Redshirt sophomore Jared Van Slyke, Emilien and redshirt freshman Quinton Washington hope to be back practicing sometime next week.


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