2011 Countdown: #56 Thomas Rawls

2011 Countdown: #56 Thomas Rawls

July 6, 2011
Thomas Rawls

Name: Thomas Rawls
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 210 lbs.
High school: Northern High School in Flint, MI
Position: Running back
Class: Freshman
Jersey number: #38
Last year: Rawls was a high school senior (commitment post here)

TTB Rating: 68

I’m probably going to take some flak for putting Rawls down here at #56, but that’s okay.  There are plenty of people who think Rawls could come in and be the starter, and I have few doubts that he will compete for playing time.  For one thing, I think the other running back in the 2011 class, Justice Hayes, is almost a lock to redshirt, and there’s not much chance that two running backs in one class will redshirt at the same time.  Rawls’ body is more developed than Hayes’, and without much talent at the fullback position (let’s face it – John McColgan is just a guy), it’s possible that the coaches might want to have a jumbo backfield with sophomore Stephen Hopkins (227 lbs.) and Rawls for short yardage situations.

I also have difficulty seeing Rawls beat out a few upperclassmen, namely Michael Shaw and Michael Cox.  Shaw gets injured regularly, and there’s obviously that looming possibility, but he has performed pretty well when able.  And my affinity for Cox (pun intended) has been well documented.  Aside from those two, the Wolverines have a third down back in junior Vincent Smith and another big back in Hopkins.  Other than the aforementioned short yardage situations (which Cox could handle just as easily, in my opinion), I just don’t see a need for Rawls to see the field much this year.

Prediction: Backup running back


  1. Comments: 21384
    Painter Smurf
    Jul 06, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    This post ought to generate some comments. People love to debate the RB situation. Rawls apparently did not have a great offer list, but a lot of fans seem to have high hopes for him. What I like about him is he has some of the prototypical RB attributes – low base, thick legs, powerful, good vision, decent speed and quickness.

    Most of the current backs all have at least one fatal flaw in my opinion. I think Shaw is out of the discussion – he did not look effective in RR's offense (even when healthy) and he will not look better in a pro-style. This blog is in love with Cox but there has to be something wrong with him for RR to completely ignore him and for Hoke not to warm up to him quickly this spring either. I don't see Hopkins as a feature back and I like Trousaint, but wonder if he has lost a step in college. Smith is obviously limited.

    I am confident there are no "studs" on the current roster in the mold of Wheatley, Powers, Biakabatuka, Thomas, Hart, etc. So if Rawls is decent/good, he will most definitely play. I am not a fan of redshirting RB's in general because playing the position is so tough on the body. Even if Hoke does not land Dunn in the 2012 class, I think he is in good position for 2013 and beyond to get RB recruiting back on track.

  2. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    @ Painter Smurf 10:20 a.m.

    I agree with everything you said…

    …except about Shaw. How has he not looked effective? He's averaged 5.1, 4.4, and 5.4 yards per carry, and he's got 5 more rushing touchdowns than Vincent Smith on 25 fewer carries.

    Shaw has looked hurt, but not ineffective.

  3. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    Running back will be a fun position to watch the weeks leading up to September. For the last few years we have all hope that one of the larger backs would step up and make us solid in the running game (besides our quarterback). It really has not happened and the back featured most often was of the small mold.

    With a slight change in offense it will be interesting to see if they keep the same players in the mix or if they go to a power set and move a large back in for short yardage situations. I would hope they would go back to "Manball" as everyone is calling it.

    This opens the door for just about every back on the roster over 200lbs. Since none of them have been given the proper coaching that a large back needs it may not take much for a guy like Rawls to jump in and just get it. We all assume he is just another freshman running back and in most circumstances that may be true, but it would be foolish to think that his HS coach did not take any lessons from his dad to get him prepared for the next level. I believe he could make that leap.

    It will be fun to watch, but this could be a surprise position with one or two guys leaving before it is all said and done.

  4. Comments: 21384
    Painter Smurf
    Jul 06, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    I am fairly oblivious to the RB stats, so maybe I am wrong about Shaw. I just have never been impressed watching him live. I recently re-watched the U-Conn game and it struck me that he did not make any nice plays outside of what his blocking gave him. Not sure if he was hurt or not. From his freshmen year, I have thought that his vision is below average. He seems faster than average, but he does not blow by people around the edge, or seem to be particularly quick or elusive. Shaw does fight for yards after contact – as much as his relatively lean frame can get him. Not sure that giving him a lot of snaps this year makes sense for the coaches, unless he is significantly better than the younger guys. I also think he will be even less effective in the I formation than he did in the zone read.

  5. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    Agree that Shaw hasn't looked bad when he's been on the field. He had some nice runs in the spring game too.

    It's also maybe worth noting in re: third down that Shaw caught ten balls last year in a lot less time than Smith, who caught 15. IIRC Shaw had two good catch-and-run plays late in the ND game. They were plays that he "made," as it were–just went back and watched them–his hands and footwork were good, he was able to smoothly catch the ball and burst upfield before the defense reacted. The second one was particularly great–he ran with some Hart/Minor-style spirit and busted a tackle, tho it turned out he stepped out of bounds.

  6. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    @ Painter Smurf 11:38 a.m.

    Fair enough. I don't think he has great vision, either. I'm not voting for him to go down in the annals of Michigan football history, but he does have some good qualities. I actually think he'll be better out of the "I" than he was in the zone read, which is precisely because of the vision thing. He's a north-south runner, so I think it will be easier for him to hit a specific hole than to run east-west and try to find a crease.

    All things being equal, I think you give the snaps to the younger guy. But if Shaw's averaging 5.4 yards a carry and Hopkins/Rawls/wehoever is averaging 4.1 or 4.4, then I think the choice should be obvious.

  7. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 4:08 PM

    Im not too high on shaw, rawls, or even dunn. Shaw's stupidity and arrogance rivals Cox's, and I can say that knowing both of them. Dunn looks slow. Rawls looks too slow in his tape. I like his size, but unless fred jackson is right about his speed, I dont think hell be exceptional. Ttb, 68 – sounds about right.

  8. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 4:20 PM

    Shaw doesn't break tackles and lacks balance, but if the OL is as good as I hope he could be pretty effective running through some big holes quickly , making one cut, and taking the big gain.

    RB debates are pointless right now – I don't think anyone has a good idea of how it will play out – even the coaches.

    I'll spare everyone another one of my rants on Smith vs Shaw and their statistical equivalence till the fall. [Look forward to it!] My guess: Smith doesn't start but ends up the leading back in a shotgun-heavy offense because of his pass catching ability, blocking and overall experience. Others will be used more when the offense uses the I-form.

    As for Rawls, this is too high IMO – I wouldn't be surprised to see him red-shirt, especially with the way RB recruiting seems to be headed (lots of misses) and the plentiful depth ahead of him. I'd be surprised to see a meh 3-star recruit like this (I know I know he's underrated because of grades, which is the same reason Demar Dorsey was a 2 star) leap ahead of all of the group of current backs. Smith, Shaw, Cox, Toussaint, Hopkins and co. have talent. The new offense may engender some surprising production and ability.

    On RB recruiting…
    Thunder, do you think Norfleet deserves an offer? Despite his size he's getting rave reviews and sports a Tennessee offer amongst others. It's my opinion that size doesn't matter for RB, but I don't know the particulars with Norfleet beyond being tiny.

  9. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 4:23 PM

    Painter Smurf,

    You're right to be oblivious to Running Back stats (at least the available simple stuff like averages). The samples are too inconsistent in terms of level-of-difficulty to be meaningful.

    Also, the new offense may marginalize their value even further.

  10. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    Based on his game film and the fredjacksonblessing I'm more excited about Rawls than any other incoming freshman or current RB for that matter. It looks like every time he touches the ball he's looking to get into the end zone and not all RBs have that mentality. I like his combination of size and speed. As for his speed, he looks plenty fast for college football.

  11. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    Is it just me or does Rawls seem like he's destined to be a great #2 RB. Michigan really needs to copy the rest of the Big 10 in having at least 2 solid running back options. That's not to say both RBs need to be elite caliber, normally the #2 RB won't ever break a 20+ yard run but he does consistently get a tough 3-4 yards and wear out the defense. Look at MSU last year, Wisconsin every year since Dayne, and Iowa. I know that normally the #2 guy is the future #1 who is just an underclassman but I just have a feeling Rawls doesn't project well enough to be the #1 guy. But he seems like the prototypical #2 RB for a good Big 10 rushing attack.

    (Hopefully this year Hopkins is that #2 RB for this team. I don't think he's ready yet to be the #1 guy. The problem though is you need the #1 guy before you can peg Hopkins to be the #2 RB.)

    I can't wait to see a goal line 2 TE formation with Denard, Hopkins, and Rawls. Can anyone say triple option? No more failures from inside the 1!

    Two general questions…
    1) I know for the next 2 years Michigan is deep with slot WR but last year's recruiting class (RR/Hoke split) and this year's recruiting class (Hoke year 1) are light on WRs (zero so far) because obviously we needed bodies elsewhere. Is there any chance Hayes is groomed for a 3rd down RB/slot WR option? He seems like the perfect guy to shift into or out of the backfield. I remember reading he's shifty but not fast. Isn't that perfect for the inside WR who needs to shake off his coverage more than beat the coverage?
    2) I know we need Denard to run less than last year to stay healthy. But with the change to more snaps under the center is there any chance we see the option? I know today most options are run from the shotgun (not just QB reads but real options) but any chance we go old school and go for more Eric Crouch than Taylor Martinez? Denard's acceleration around the corner (mixed with someone like Shaw or Cox) seems dangerous and if you could combine that with a Rawls/Hopkins threat up the middle (triple option) I think it could be really successful. The nice thing about the option is that it would allow Denard to pitch the ball when there isn't room for him to run so he could avoid some (all) unnecessary contact yet still not limit our offenses' #1 threat. Denard could start running the option see if there is a hole (thus still making the defense react to Denard as a threat). If there is he takes it and turns upfield (resulting in fewer hard hits since it's hard for defenses to square up to him when he's passed the LOS) and if there isn't a hole he pitches it wide to the RB who either finds space, makes someone miss, or takes the hit "for" Denard.

  12. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 5:56 PM

    Painter Smurf: I don't understand your position about RB being tough on the body equating to not liking RS. It's not like a team (other than Iowa) needs 6 RBs on the standby. And if everyone else did get injured we could always remove the RS and play that player. I think injurys to RBs equates to a shorter career, which is why I wouldn't spend a top 10 NFL pick on one but I don't think it changes anything in their college career.

    Also, most freshman lack in the mental aspects of the game. Judging a RB based on vision from his freshman year is harsh. Yes, some players do seem to have it (Hart) but that doesn't mean it doesn't develop in time. Also, this offense is less read-and-react than last years. I have a feeling it will really help players that need to (or are better at) being told go here or here. Previously, the RB would need to know the play (duh), guess the defensive response, digest the actual defensive response, and then counter based on the weakness in the response. That is a LOT for a freshman RB to do, especially one that is weak in that area to begin with.

    Anonymous… why are you bashing every single RB. Dunn is the #2 RB in the country (and he is still and OSU commit) and calling Shaw stupid and arrogant is over the top. Do you know him? Do you like lashing out anonymously at college athletes? I really wish your comment would be deleted.

    Nick: Just because we're going to more I sets doesn't mean the RB needs to weigh over 200 pounds. Also, assuming that the big RBs didn't get great coaching because RR was known for RBs like Slaton and Devine doesn't mean he didn't coach big RBs. Hopkins started as a true freshman and at WVU Owen Schmitt had 48, 65, and 47 rushing attempts. Also, expecting Rawls to "just get" the offense is a bit crazy. He's going to have to learn new terminology and new blocking assignments while also jumping from a so-so HS level football league to the Big 10. It's not like 5A Texas football where you do see college coaches.

    I'm 100% with Lankownia. Debating RBs is useless. We don't know what the coaches value (finding right hole vs. vision, zero mistakes vs. big play, consistency vs. TD threat, pass blocking ability vs. running ability) and truth is I'm not sure we will know until the end of year 2 what the coaches want.

  13. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    @ Lankownia 12:20 p.m.

    Based on the talent and depth, I agree that Rawls should redshirt…but typically, when we take a couple running backs, at least one freshman plays. It didn't happen in 2002 (Rembert and Hood both redshirted) or 2007 (Horn and Helmuth), and those aren't even great examples, since Hood switched to DB and Helmuth was a FB. So I think either Rawls or Hayes will play, and Rawls seems more ready.

    No, I don't think Norfleet deserves an offer. We're in on a lot of other big fish and I'd rather see how those things play out. Like I've said in the past, we don't need a running back this year. If we don't get a big-time kid like Dunn or Marshall, then we can go without one.

  14. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    @ KB 1:37 p.m.

    I wouldn't expect Hayes to be a WR full-time, but yes, he could split out into the slot. I think his best opportunity for playing time is to turn into a third-down back, much like what I expect from Vincent Smith this year.

    No, I don't think we'll see the triple option. Borges hasn't used it before (as far as I know), and he's had too much success to start toying around too much. I think he should and will stick with what he knows. We might see some zone read option or some speed option from the shotgun, but triple option quarterbacks take a lot of hits. We can't afford to lose Denard to injury.

  15. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    @ Anonymous 12:08 p.m.

    Dunn looks like a clone of Anthony Thomas to me. Thomas didn't do much in the NFL, but he was a pretty darn good college back. If he ends up at OSU, I think he's going to have a good career (assuming they can keep their recruiting on the OL going).

  16. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 7:17 PM

    My take on Norfleet is that with an average Carr roster for the past few years, Michigan would take him. But with so many small receivers already on the roster, and the number of good recruits the staff is in on this year, it just doesn't make sense.

    This recruiting class is particularly important in my eyes because if this season and next don't go so well, and they could not due to talent and scheme changes, then recruiting could drop off. And in year 3, when Hokes seat may start getting warm, some of this years recruits will need to be good for him to keep his job.

  17. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 7:20 PM

    @ Anonymous 3:17 p.m.

    I'm not sure how good Michigan will be in 2011, but I think 2012 has to be a good year. There will be too many experienced guys on the OL, DL, LB, and DB – not to mention QB – not to have a good season. I know it's early, but I really think anything less than double-digit wins in 2012 would be disappointing.

  18. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 8:02 PM

    Interesting thoughts on 2012. I think the exact opposite. The 2012 issues:

    OL: lose Molk and Huyge. We've seen this team all but collapse the last couple years when Molk's been hurt. I know Khoury's in line to replace Molk, but there will be a drop off and suddenly Bryant and Posada have to step up to provide depth. I think the OL will take a noticeable step back.

    DL: lose Martin and RVB (and Heininger). It should be obvious that this is a huge blow and no replacements are evident yet (our happy projections about Black are nice). Maybe some of the freshman crop can contribute but that rarely ends well. The hope (prayer?) here is that Campbell/Ash/Washington/Talbott somehow develop but eh…that ain't Mike Martin. We'll probably be relying on freshman to some degree.

    WR/TE: lose 4 of the top 5 guys and the replacements are unproven and uninspiring

    FB: lose McColgan – no FB replacement is known

    Schedule: Alabama in Texas is a hell of a lot harder than CMU or EMU game. @ND, @Neb, @OSU offset the home games against Iowa, NWU, MSU.

    Reasons for optimism:
    2nd year with the coaching staff
    QB: Denard as a senior
    OL: 3 starters back plus experienced backups
    LB/S: Everyone back + good coaching = relief!

    To me, the schedule is the biggest factor why you'll see more wins in 2011 than 2012.

  19. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 8:11 PM

    @ Lankownia 4:02 p.m.

    Molk is good, but I don't think the dropoff will be that huge, especially if we're not running zone stuff as often. Molk is great at reach blocking, but Khoury's no slouch. Schofield is right behind Huyge, and I don't think the drop-off there will be that noticeable, either. Meanwhile, Lewan, Omameh, and Barnum should return. There's not much depth but the starting five should be solid.

    Perhaps I'm too optimistic, but I think Campbell's going to step up as an upperclassman and with the new coaching staff. I also like what I've seen from Washington. Again, depth is a potential issue, but I think the starters will be solid.

    I'm not really concerned about the WR's and TE's. Those are positions where freshmen can contribute.

    Hopkins and Kerridge should be able to take care of the fullback position.

    If Michigan returns to what Michigan was under Carr, then I think ND, Nebraska, and OSU are winnable. Even Alabama isn't invincible. Things seem to be headed in the right direction, and Mattison ought to have the defense hitting on all cylinders by 2012. I'm not saying we'll be a national championship contender, but 10 wins isn't out of reach.

  20. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 8:43 PM

    @KB – if you read my comment, you would see that I do know Shaw and Cox. I criticize these players knowing them personally, and being a fan, and you criticize my opinion without even reading the entire post? And Criticizing 3 of the 8 running backs on our roster doest not qualify as bashing every single running back.

    @Thunder – Dunn could be a very solid player. I should've rephrased my comment. I think all the hype I've been hearing about him may be in part to us potentially stealing him from ohio. Even KB, who criticized me for my opinion, says Dunn is the #2 running back in the country… when Rivals says he is the #2 running back in the state of Ohio. I could be wrong, and if we get him I'll support him all the way, but I wouldn't mind if we didn't take a running back this class when WR seems like a position of much greater need.

  21. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 8:59 PM

    Molk/Khoury – definitely nice to have a 5th year senior stepping in for a departing player. Agree about Schofield/Huyge, but my biggest concern on OL is where the depth is going to come from. Probably Bryant and true freshman – yikes. There are always injuries on the OL and the failures of OL recruiting the last few years will begin to cause problems in 2012.

    Campbell and Washington will get their shot this year. We'll see…

    I agree with you actually about WR and TE being OK. I don't think they're critical positions generally. Still, having Odoms, Hemingway, and Koger is a lot better than not. Incoming freshman may not contribute so much. Williams is a blocker, and as such probably needs to RS a year (like an OL) and Funchess is undersized. The WR is TBD.

    I don't see Hopkins as a FB personally, and Kerridge is a walk-on that hasn't started college yet…we'll see about those.

    I think things are headed in a positive direction too, but the 2012 outcomes are more dependent on the past (i.e. 2009-2011 recruiting) than the overall direction that Hoke is moving the program. No one is waving a magic wand that will turn the 2012 team into the 2000 team. It's still going to be a team of players primarily recruited for a different system, a couple down recruiting years, and a schedule that any school would consider to be extremely challenging.

  22. Comments: 21384
    Jul 06, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    @ Lankownia 4:59 p.m.

    If we use split backs, I don't see why Hopkins can't be a FB.

    And if we use the "I" then the fullback can be a walk-on, a converted linebacker, etc. The fullback position is the least of my worries, really. I've never seen a fullback at Michigan and said, "Ohmygod, that fullback is killing us." If you're 220+ pounds and you like to hit people, then you can do the job just fine.

  23. Comments: 21384
    Jul 07, 2011 at 3:29 PM

    One of the main attributes that a FB needs is willingness to be a bit player. I don't know Hopkins, but I'd guess that a guy with his level of success at RB (he was extremely productive at a high profile Texas school) is not going to be very content to become primarily a blocker…especially with the uninspiring crop of backs that we have.

    Maybe they could give him the ball enough to make him happy or maybe they use split-backs (as you suggest) and call it a 2 RB formation, but…well…that seems sort of optimistic.

    Personally, I just don't think they'll use FBs all that much in 2012. They'll just have more single-back sets or use H-backs or 2nd RBs.

  24. Comments: 21384
    Jul 07, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    @ Lankownia 11:29 a.m.

    Hopkins came here knowing that he wasn't a prototypical Rich Rodriguez/spread type back. So if he committed to Michigan knowing that he was likely a role player, then I'm not sure why he wouldn't accept a specific role from Hoke.

  25. Comments: 21384
    Jul 07, 2011 at 4:23 PM

    Disagree with that premise. Rodriguez gave carries to big backs too – when you run the ball nearly 70% of the time and play up-temp, you're going to have plenty of carries to go around. I don't think Hopkins was thinking "I'm just a role player". At least not in the same sense that you'd expect for a pro-style FB who who blocks 95% of the time and gets maybe 15 carries in a season. Furthermore Hopkins is quoted as saying "They told me I'm a lot like Brandon Minor and the other big backs they've played in their system."

  26. Comments: 21384
    Jul 07, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    @ Lankownia 12:23 p.m.

    Here's what Hopkins said when he committed:

    "I am the biggest back that is going to be there when Brandon Minor's gone, so I could step into the big back role."

    It doesn't get any clearer than that.

    Anyway, this is not going to be a pro-style fullback exclusively. They're going to use split backs and hand off to the fullback (at least if the coaches imitate what they did at SDSU). Meanwhile, SDSU's starting fullback last year was Brandon Sullivan, who had 40 carries and 26 receptions. So blocking "95% of the time" and getting "maybe 15 carries in a season" is a gross misrepresentation of what Borges is [probably] going to do at Michigan.

  27. Comments: 21384
    Jul 07, 2011 at 8:01 PM

    You may have a point, though I'd be surprised (and disappointed) if they tried to replicate SDSU's offense with Denard.

    As for Hopkins, Minor was the featured back and lead the team in carries and yards the year before he came in. It would have been way more if he wasn't hurt all the time. That's the 'big back role' that Hopkins likely envisioned. Maybe he didn't expect to get 200 carries/season in college, but he probably expected more than 40.

    Maybe you're right – what the offense looks like and what roles will be are an enormous uncertainty right now.

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