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Wolverines focus on running game

03/13/2014, 1:11am EDT

ANN ARBOR — De’Veon Smith admitted his first two months with the University of Michigan football team were challenging.

At times, he may have seemed in over his head. Maybe he wasn’t on the same psychological level as some of his teammates, or some of his fellow freshmen who were making an impact.

“Eventually, my time was going to come,” the freshman running back said. “I had to be patient and learn from some of the older backs, like Fitzgerald Toussaint. That’s all I could do, was just learn.”

The turning point came when Smith was left off the travel roster before a 29-6 loss Nov. 2 at Michigan State, a decision made by Michigan coach Brady Hoke.

Four months later, Smith wouldn’t go into detail about that decision but regarded it as a learning experience.

“You’ve really got to be more, what’s the word, more on point,” Smith said. “You’ve got to be [in] the right place, at the right time and doing the right things.

Smith returned to the travel roster, and he and freshman running back Derrick Green combined for 120 yards on 27 carries in a 27-19 triple-overtime win Nov. 16 at Northwestern. It may have served as a glimpse of what Michigan’s offense might look like this season — a different look from the last three seasons.

Only a few weeks into his tenure as UM’s offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier said he plans to use multiple running backs in his scheme, including Smith, Green, and pass-blocker Justice Hayes.

“That’s what coach Nussmeier’s about, having that one-two punch,” said Green, who had 83 carries for 270 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. “I feel like we can do definitely that.”

While Nussmeier has met with the media only once since the start of spring practices, he did not elaborate on his plans for Michigan’s offense, which finished 10th in the Big Ten with 4,855 yards (1,634 rushing, 3,221 passing).

By comparison, Ohio State led the Big Ten in 2013 with 7,167 yards in a run-heavy offense.

Alabama’s offense under Nussmeier in 2013 utilized two effective running backs. T.J. Yeldon had 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns on 207 carries, while Kenyan Drake added 694 yards and eight touchdowns on 92 carries.

“It’s really important for all of our backs to get multiple reps because eventually, the backs are going to get tired,” Smith said. “A back can’t take 32 carries a game, so it’s important for more backs to get more carries during a game.”

Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde led the Big Ten in rushing but averaged 19 carries a game. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah averaged 21.6 carries a game, and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon averaged 15.8 carries a game.

“Coach Borges, to me, was more of a pass-first, run-second [offense],” Smith said. “I feel like coach Nussmeier is more running-first and pass-second.”

Green and Smith have seen a noted difference in UM’s scheme so far this spring — a downhill attack with an emphasis on pass protection and a quick pace.

“It’s been a learning process, but we’re getting used to it,” Smith said. “Every player is. It seems like it’s a lot more easier than last season’s offense, but it’s going to be a little bit more of a process than last year.

“It’s very high-tempo, a lot of energy. We get multiple reps, and it’s helping us.”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at:, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.

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