Three years ago, Derrick Green and Shane Morris were tabbed as Michigan’s stars of tomorrow.
Green at running back. Morris at quarterback.
Those were going to be the days for the Wolverines. But unfortunately for Green and Morris, a pair of former 5-star recruits, “the days” are these days–as in right now.
With that being said, the thought-to-be cornerstones of Michigan’s No. 4-ranked 2013 class have yet to perform, and for whatever reason, they’ve all but missed their windows of opportunity in Ann Arbor.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, though; they weren’t supposed to fade away into the depth chart. But it happened that way. And they have, indeed, become mere afterthoughts of a previous era.
College football is cyclical, and Morris–who redshirted in 2015–has already been surpassed by redshirt freshman Wilton Speight, who backed up fifth-year transfer Jake Rudock during the season.
Speight will probably serve the same role in 2016, when John O’Korn–a will-be redshirt junior–takes the No. 1 job in January, leaving Morris at No. 3 or No. 4 in the pecking order.
As for Green, well, it’s plain to see that he’s in the same boat as Morris. Freshman Karan Higdon had a few carries this year while junior De’Veon Smith carried the majority of the workload. That’ll probably the case in 2016, leaving little room for Green.
As a true freshman, Morris held his own during the Wolverines’ 31-14 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State. Former offensive coordinator Al Borges simplified the offense, likely due to Morris’ inexperience, but Morris played well enough to project progression in the years to come.
In 2014, he got his shot versus Minnesota. Conversely, he also took a shot–and in hindsight, that Gophers-induced concussion all but knocked Morris from contention. It was an ugly, ugly 30-14 loss. The following sequence of events–the misinformation and dodging of the topic–made things even worse.
From that point, saying Morris’ name in a public setting became taboo. Asking questions about Morris felt like a no-no, as former coach Brady Hoke simply didn’t want to get into the discussion.
This year, Morris appeared to be calm and confident. Back in spring, he was named the starter over freshman/early enrollee Alex Malone. But that didn’t last long, as things quickly changed once Rudock joined the party. He took the top job, Speight hopped Morris in fall camp, and the rest, is, well–the rest is what has led up to the now.
Asking about Morris still seems awkward. Coach Jim Harbaugh did his best to tip-toe around the conversation this year, but he didn’t have to hide the fact that Speight was No. 2. He already spoke of Morris’ redshirt. It was just a matter of connecting the dots.
Looking back, it appears as if Harbaugh was trying to provide a cushion for Morris. Can’t blame a coach for doing that. Not in the least. On the other side, Morris deserves credit for enduring his set of circumstances. He played nice during availability and always presented himself in a positive manner.
That must have been difficult.
To date, the 6’3,” 209-pound lefty has 389 passing yards and five interceptions on his collegiate resume. He’s appeared in seven regular-season games and one bowl game.
Morris will be a senior in 2016, but he’s barely gotten his feet wet at the Division I level.
Through three years, Green has rushed 212 times for 898 yards and seven touchdowns. Back in 2013, a line such as that would have been considered a fantastic sophomore or junior year for the 5’11,” 234-pound power runner. In 2015, Green rushed 47 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns.
He had 80-plus carries in 2013 and 2014.
Prior to the season, he had posted photos of his much leaner torso; he appeared to be in a great physical shape and ready to assume control of the No. 1 running back job. Due to more injuries, however, he never reached a peak.
Instead, Smith carried the ball 155 times this season.
Even Drake Johnson, who had also been hampered by injury, had more carries than Green.
Back in 2014, Green’s engine started to rev. With 170 yards, he demolished Appalachian State during Michigan’s season-opening win in Ann Arbor. Two weeks later, he bashed Miami (Ohio) for 137 yards.
He hit holes, broke tackles and ran hard–all of the things he was unable to do in 2015.
Three weeks after running over the RedHawks, Green carried the ball 12 times for 74 yards against Rutgers.
Then he broke his clavicle and was sidelined for the rest of the year.
Michigan knows it has a backfield weapon in Jabrill Peppers, who finished the season with 18 carries for 72 net yards and two touchdowns. The all-around threat could see more action as a running back, too. Michigan knows that Higdon, who had 11 carries this season, has a little something that can turn into a big something. The freshman is quick. He just needs time to develop.
Smith will get carries in 2016.
Harbaugh’s grooming fullbacks, so they’ll get carries.
And don’t forget about the newcomers. They could figure into the equation as well.
So many options for very few positions.
Nobody saw this coming for Green in 2013. Likewise, not many back then would have predicted a similar fate for Morris, either.