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Ty Isaac’s run at Michigan glory, take 2

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Ty Isaac

Ann Arbor – When running back Ty Isaac arrived at Michigan following his freshman year at USC, there were big expectations for the high-profile transfer.

After sitting out the 2014 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Isaac, a former five-star recruit from Illinois, entered 2015 as a candidate to earn the Wolverines’ starting job. But things didn’t quite pan out.

He recorded 10 carries for 47 yards in Michigan’s first two games and seemed to make a breakthrough in Week 3, erupting for a career-high 115 rushing yards on eight carries against UNLV, highlighted by a 76-yard touchdown run.

That performance wasn’t enough to bump Isaac up the depth chart, though, as he continued to see limited action.

Following a two-fumble game at Maryland, his playing time took a severe hit. Isaac only received four more carries – two against Northwestern in Week 6 and two against Michigan State in Week 7 – before an “internal matter” in mid-October landed him on the bench for the rest of the season.

Isaac finished his underwhelming junior campaign with 205 yards rushing on 30 carries (6.8 yards-per-carry average) in seven game appearances, including one start.

“It was a rough stretch,” Isaac said. “Just between talking to some of my mentors and my mom and dad, you just got to lock in and do what you got to do. Sometimes you got to get to the bottom before you start coming up."

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Entering his senior season, Isaac (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) said he feels like he’s trending in the right direction. He’s more comfortable with the plays and has a firmer grip on the schemes compared to last year, when the team was learning first-year coach Jim Harbaugh’s offensive system.

Isaac added he’s much further along in camp this season in his knowledge of the playbook and ability to eliminate mental mistakes.

“I think there's definitely things that I know I need to work on and things that I personally want to get better at,” Isaac said. “But I feel like I'm on the right track to continue to progress and I'm going to end up where I want to be."

He dropped some weight in the offseason and stood out in Michigan’s spring game, rushing for 78 yards on 10 carries. He also broke off explosive runs for 29 and 30 yards, reaffirming his potential and capability.

Ty Isaac takes off on his 76-yard TD run against UNLV last season.

“I've always been the type of person – once I do it one time and get that taste of success or what you're supposed to do, I think it's kind of easy to follow that format,” Isaac said.

With De’Veon Smith, who led the Wolverines' rushing attack with 753 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games last season, and Drake Johnson, who rushed for 271 yards and four scores in 12 games, also returning, Isaac is reestablishing his case to prove he’s worthy of the No. 1 role.

Though Smith shouldered much of the load as the starter in 2015, Isaac doesn’t view the running back battle as a competition that’s merely for the No. 2 spot.

"I would say Coach Harbaugh will put in whoever he feels gives us the best to chance to win, so whoever that may be – one of the young guys or Drake, De'Veon or myself,” Isaac said. “I don't think any position is locked down right now."

And if given the chance, Isaac is ready to deliver on those expectations many had a year ago.

"Nobody comes to a place like this not to play,” Isaac said. “I really want to get on the field, contribute and help the team win. Just for myself, I know what I'm capable of, so I'm going to get out there and do it."

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter @jamesbhawkins