RBs need to show versatility

To preview Michigan's football season this year, WolverineNation takes a look at each position through the spectrum of the expectations of the position set by head coach Brady Hoke and the coordinators -- along with those who have played the position at Michigan in the past.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Perhaps no position will go through a responsibility and expectation change as much as the running backs during the next few seasons. As Michigan begins to transition from a spread team under Rich Rodriguez to a pro-style offense under Brady Hoke and Al Borges, the running backs will be expected to do different things.

One thing will remain the same, though – beating opponents in space.

"Number one, to be able to make people miss or run through them," Borges said. "The ability to pick up blitzes when we're passing the ball, be able to block when somebody else is carrying the ball.

"At times, and we haven't gotten into this as much as we will, being a good receiver out of the backfield. Presenting that threat. We do some of that now but we've still only scratched the surface of that."

In essence, be a complete back.

Running backs are an interesting breed to have a blanket expectation for the position because no two backs have the exact same running styles. Even when backs look similar, there are usually small, nuanced changes, from the planting of the feet to how high his legs churn when he runs.

Putting backs in space, though, hasn't changed. How Michigan does it -- more of an option system under Rodriguez versus traditional handoffs before and after Rodriguez -- is what will be different.

"I'm not sure if the kind of offense we run now is the same but a lot of the plays [when I was at Michigan] were designed that the running back would be put in one-on-one situations and the expectation was that you could beat one person or even two," former Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka said. "You got positive yards and that you could beat one defender.

"The running game was designed to always leave one person open for you to handle."

Biakabutuka and the rest of the Michigan running backs in the 1990s and 2000s did that often.

There are the obvious requirements for running backs -- protect the ball, don't fumble, run hard, block -- but Michigan expects every back it has to be able to do this. Also, with the Wolverines, the running back has to be prepared to take a lot of hits.

"Being able to carry the ball 25 times," Borges said. "That's what we'd like our featured runner to do, and it requires that you have some mental and physical toughness."

It took Michigan half of last season to find its featured runner out of a group including Vincent Smith, Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint. Toussaint, who ended up gaining 1,041 yards and became the main back midway through last season, enters this season as the starter if his drunken driving suspension is lifted.

Biakabutuka believes Toussaint fits well into what Michigan expects out of its running backs.

"I like his running style," Biakabutuka said. "He's definitely the right running back for the type of offense we run. He's pretty fast, quick, has good feet, so I think he's a guy that could definitely be that back for them.

"His production would go up if they really featured a running back getting the ball."

Once quarterback Denard Robinson leaves after this season that transition will continue to occur.