August 17, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Angelique S. Chengelis

Freshman Derrick Green making spirited run at being Michigan's starting tailback

Freshman Derrick Green could be Michigan's starting tailback, despite some weight concerns. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)

Way back in May during the fund-raising weekend in Ann Arbor for Mott Children’s hospital, former Michigan running back Anthony Thomas weighed in on playing tailback as a freshman.

Thomas, the third-leading rusher in program history (4,472 yards), spoke of the inherent challenges of playing that first season, mainly the fact it’s overwhelming to digest all of the information thrown at a just-out-of-high-school kid.

But it is commonly acknowledged that tailback is a position at which a freshman can make a legitimate impact. Certainly, Mike Hart, Michigan’s all-time leading rusher, was able to do that.

But can Derrick Green? Aside from the ankle issue that slowed him a bit during this camp and the extra weight — he arrived at 240 pounds, about 20 more than he carried his senior year season in high school — he has drawn praise from head coach Brady Hoke and running backs coach Fred Jackson.

With Jackson’s plan to determine a starter probably by the end of next week and then play as many backs as possible in the season opener against Central Michigan on Aug. 31, we should get a chance to judge Green ourselves and see if he has what it takes.

That’s assuming he’s not the starter, of course.

The battle of backs

Perhaps he has mightier physical tools than fifth-year senior Fitz Toussaint, but still, doesn’t experience count for something? Yeah, Toussaint struggled some last year coming off a 1,000-yard season, but don’t overlook the protection as being part of that issue.

Intangibles count for something, too.

Toussaint is coming off an injury, a grotesque broken left leg suffered in the final regular-season home game last November. Jackson says he is bigger, stronger and faster.

More importantly, he is driven. The injury and subsequent rehab have made him more determined, and the arrival of a young back with a lot of national attention has given him a spark. Bigger, stronger, faster and more determined — he said, when asked, he expects to be the starter in the opener. That’s a pretty solid combination and potentially formidable.

A new interior line could bring more of the same from last year, a weakness in making holes for the backs, but no one seems to be weighing that option too heavily. Toussaint might have danced too much last season, trying to make things happen early on because he knew he probably had to. He should be able to relax that tendency.

Jackson said last week he won’t “give” Toussaint the job because of the long road he’s had to endure toward making his return. Of course, he shouldn’t. But Toussaint has the edge because he has experience. There’s no sympathy vote there.

As Michigan settles into more of a downhill running attack, Toussaint should be the first wave, with Green on his heels, provided, like Thomas said, he grasps all of the nuances of playing tailback in college. And for the record, another freshman, De’Veon Smith, sounds just as intriguing as Green. Under the radar at tailback isn’t a bad place to be.

angelique.chengelis@detroitnews.com

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