ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Despite coaching for more than 20 years at Michigan, there are a few years for running backs that stick out to Fred Jackson.
There was 1992 with Tyrone Wheatley, Tim Biakabutuka and Jesse Johnson. There was 2003 with Chris Perry, Kevin Dudley and Braylon Edwards.
To Jackson, these are the years that stick. Because those are the teams that had a significant run game and made it, unsurprisingly, to the Rose Bowl.
“I’ve always had two or three guys who were plus 220-pound guys,” Jackson said. “And that makes a difference in November, a big time difference in November.”
For Michigan, they are a triple threat of big, strong players who are excited to hit and be hit. Most importantly, these three will help the Wolverines accelerate their transition back into a pro-style offense from what it has been running over the past few seasons with Denard Robinson at quarterback, taking several carries.
“With the three big backs, that was an importance piece for how we want to play vertically, downhill and how we want to run the offense that we’re gradually getting to,” Hoke said.
Hoke compared Shallman (who measures at a whopping 6-foot-3, 245 pounds) to Aaron Shea, a former Michigan fullback and tight end who went on to play in the NFL. The Wolverines like his ability to be multidimensional on the field -- someone who will be effective in multiple facets such as knocking people off the ball, catching out of the backfield and usage as a single back.
Where Jackson saw him most effective would be in short-yardage situations, which the Wolverines running backs struggled with in the 2012 season.
“Some situation where it’s third-and-1 or fourth-and-1 and you might not block it well, but he can get the yards,” Jackson said. “That’s some of the things we know we went through this year that cost us some situations in games and hopefully we rectified that.
Green and Smith are more similar in play, and not quite as versatile as Shallman. However, they make up for that in speed and elusiveness.
“Both of them have very good instinct,” Jackson said. “I think they have good vision, good balance, can break tackles and that’s something we were thinking we needed.”
But at this point it seems as though Green might be the most likely candidate to step into the role as primary back come fall, but with the Wolverines changing the offense and the struggles nearly every freshman athlete encounters, Jackson is leaving it wide open.
“They all know that they have a shot,” Jackson said. “No one’s shying away from anybody.”
But with these three players and the style they represent, Michigan is clearly going through a transformation back to the days of Wheatley and Biakabutuka and Perry.
And while offensive coordinator Al Borges knows it won’t be a “three yards and a cloud of dust” type of offense, he knows that will be a part and these three players could be in the middle of that dust, which will hopefully settle on a new offense, with a new-ish quarterback and a stronger running back ground game than was seen this past season.
“It’s less a hybrid than it was,” Borges said. “But it’s still not your 'line up in the I-formation and hit them in the mouth every play' offense either. We’re going to be in multiple formations, doing multiple shifts and multiple motions.”
And they hope that, along with their big-bodied running backs, makes them successful come November.