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Notebook: Offense won’t change if Rawls replaces Toussaint, Mattison looks for versatility on line

Marissa McClain/Daily
Sophomore tailback Thomas Rawls will be the replacement for Fitzgerald Toussaint should the redshirt junior miss time. Buy this photo

By Ben Estes, Daily Sports Editor
Published August 24, 2012

Even though the Michigan football team's coaching staff hasn't released any timetable for redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint's return, his ongoing suspension makes sophomore Thomas Rawls the likely option at the position.

Senior tailback Vincent Smith certainly isn’t going anywhere, but he’s at his best as the third-down back, and the diminutive senior is perhaps not well suited to be a bull-type of ball carrier. Rawls, however, is built to be just that.

The 5-foot-10, 218-pound Rawls is Michigan’s heaviest halfback — and he plays like it. Coaches and players alike rave about the sophomore’s physical running style, and offensive coordinator Al Borges called Rawls a “battering ram” again on Friday.

The Flint, Mich. native differs from the more “stop-and-go” style of Toussaint, in Borges’ words. Rawls’ ascendancy to a starting role raises the question of whether the Wolverines would change their attack if he received most of the reps.

Borges shot down that idea for the most part, but he didn’t close the door completely.

“Occasionally there’s a subtlety that you’ll do, but we are what we are,” Borges said. “We pretty much go to the next guy. We can’t restructure, if that makes any sense. But if a guy has a certain talent and another kid doesn’t, we’ll try to explore that a little bit more.”

That could mean slightly more of the power-style schemes that Borges normally runs but has gone away from in adapting his offense to Michigan’s spread-ready roster. Rawls, at least, proved he could be adept at isolations, traps and other traditional power plays when he burst onto the scene in the spring game in April.

Though Rawls’ ability to hit the gap hard and run powerfully isn’t of much concern, it remains to be seen if he can match the elusiveness and vision of Toussaint, who displayed a knack for finding holes last season at the position.

“(Rawls’ vision is) not bad. Getting better all the time,” Borges said. “And that’s all reps, because I told you all when we first got Fitz, Fitz was struggling, particularly when we lined him up in home position in our two-back runs, because he just hasn’t done a lot of it.

“But once he ran the plays and did it more and more, it all came around, and Thomas is in the process of doing the same thing.”

LINE DANCING: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison isn’t merely looking for the three new defensive line starters to replace the production lost with the departures of Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heinenger.

He wants them to be able to do so at multiple positions, too.

That’s how Mattison explained the comments of Michigan coach Brady Hoke on Tuesday. Hoke alluded to senior defensive tackle Will Campbell — penciled in as the starter at the nose — getting reps at the three-technique spot, and others (including the skinnier, presumed starting three-technique Jibreel Black) seeing time at the nose.

Different linemen, even starters, have been playing at different positions in fall camp so they can move around in a pinch, if need be.

“The key for us is that we make sure we have a backup and a guy that could switch to another position and get the best guys on the field,” Mattison said. “That’s something you have to look at for the entire season.

“You want to have flexibility going in so that if something happens to somebody, or in the fourth quarter if a guy doesn’t have anything left, you want to have the next-best guy play, and the next-best player go to that position also.”

Mattison indicated such versatility might be easier to pull off for Michigan’s unit than other defensive lines, perhaps, since three expected starters — Black, senior strongside end Craig Roh and sophomore rush end Brennan Beyer — are used to moving around. All three have played other positions full-time in their careers.

NOTES: Borges reiterated that Toussaint’s availability for Michigan’s opener against Alabama would be up to Hoke, but he did confirm that he and the head coach have discussed the matter.

Though freshman linebacker Kaleb Ringer was lost for the year after undergoing knee surgery, Mattison confirmed that Ringer wasn’t likely to see much of the field this year, having been playing injured for most of camp.