De'Veon Smith applies a stiff-arm against Ohio State last season. (David Guralnick / Detroit News)
Chicago – Establishing a consistent, potent running game at Michigan has been a topic of conversation since last season.
Finding one has certainly been more difficult than talking about it.
But Michigan coach Brady Hoke on Tuesday, during the final session of the Big Ten Media Days, said sophomore De’Veon Smith appears to have the edge heading into preseason camp, which begins next week.
Smith and fellow sophomore Derrick Green, the highly-ranked high school recruit who arrived in Ann Arbor last fall 20 pounds heavier and then endured an ankle setback, are expected to be the two leading running back candidates. Green has lost the weight and spoke confidently last spring about his expectations for the upcoming season.
“It’s going to be an interesting competition,” Hoke said. “(Smith) may have protected a little better (to earn the advantage).
“It’s tight. Look, there may be three backs, and that’s fine if you run the ball and you’re productive.”
Hoke said Drake Johnson, out last season with a torn ACL, will also compete for playing time.
Michigan’s running game was limited last season in part because of a lack of depth. Fitz Toussaint was the primary back.
“He’s the only guy we had,” Hoke said. “We would like for (Smith and Green) to progress a little faster last year.”
Regarding the offensive line, now minus two tackles drafted in the NFL, Hoke said he wants to avoid shuffling starters as the Wolverines did last year “out of necessity.”
Graham Glasgow, who pleaded guilty to driving while visually impaired and is suspended for the season opener, will practice at center with the first team through the first half of camp. And then Patrick Kugler and Jack Miller will compete for the start in the opener against Appalachian State.
In other personnel news, Hoke said Will Hagerup likely has locked down the job at punter but has competition from Kenny Allen. Matt Wile is expected to handle field goals, and Allen and Wile will compete to handle kickoffs.
Dennis Norfleet will be the primary returner on kickoffs, but Jourdan Lewis also will see time there. On punt returns, Freddie Canteen, Channing Stribling and Lewis are among the top candidates.