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Published: Sunday, 4/13/2003

Perry hopes to put the running back at UM

BY DAVE WOOLFORD
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Perry: lofty goals Perry: lofty goals
PAUL WARNER / AP Enlarge

ANN ARBOR - It was, “One, two, three, NATIONAL CHAMPS!”

And with that hearty cheer, Michigan happily ended its spring football season yesterday on the practice field adjacent to Schembechler Hall.

The Wolverines feel they weren't frivolously flattering themselves following what amounted to a 2 1/2-hour practice session. It ended with a controlled scrimmage that left little doubt that, unlike most spring practices, the offense was far ahead of the defense.

Of course, there were a lot of new faces on the No. 1 defense, including redshirt freshman safety Willis Barringer from Scott High.

But the offense has piqued the Wolverines' certitude.

“You shouldn't be playing at this level if you expect less,” UM senior tailback Chris Perry explained when asked about the closing chant.

Last season at this time, the general consensus seemed to be, “How can Michigan win with John Navarre at quarterback?” Now it's more like, “How can Michigan lose with John Navarre at quarterback?”

The 6-6, 230-pound senior had a presence yesterday that seemed unflappable, even though he shared the position with two others listed on the depth chart from No. 2 on back.

But some of that had to do with Perry. With a stellar running attack, Navarre and the UM offense might be extremely potent. The offensive line appears big and powerful, a “Michigan line,” Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr stated recently, as if his offensive lines in the recent past may have been a cut below.

There's very good depth at the receiver positions. Now, if Michigan could just run the ball. Since the “A-Train” (tailback Anthony Thomas) in 2000, the Wolverines' rushing attack has been side-tracked.

Michigan ranked ninth in the Big Ten in rushing last year, averaging just 148.4 yards per game. In 2001, UM was eighth with a 143.0 average. Perry was ninth in the Big Ten in rushing with an 85.4 average last season, but his 4.2 yards-per-carry average was the lowest among the top 10 rushers in the conference.

But that was an often-injured Perry, playing with ankle, knee and shoulder ailments for the second consecutive season. He still rushed for 1,110 yards and scored 14 touchdowns.

“I really didn't prove anything with the 1,000 yards rushing last season in 13 games [11 of which he started],” Perry explained yesterday after seeing very limited action. “I want to do more. The A-Train was always beat up with injuries, too, but he pushed through. Being healthy brings my confidence to another level. I just wanted to do more last season and I didn't.”

Perry is also coming off the best game of his career. The 6-1, 220-pounder gained 193 yards and scored four touchdowns in UM's 38-30 victory over Florida in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1.

“I didn't even run for 100 yards in that game. It was only 85, and I should have scored on a screen pass and I didn't,” he said. “But the bowl game was a springboard for our confidence, and going into the spring everyone was motivated.

“Next season I want to stay on my feet more, break more tackles, catch more passes and block better. I've set my goals high and it's about time for it.”

Carr said he's been very pleased with Perry, and junior David Underwood, the backup tailback, who has Perry's size, but with additional quickness and slickness.

“I expect an outstanding season out of Chris,” Carr said. “He understands the length of the season, the endurance factor and how much more it takes physically. They say a great back can do everything and Chris can run, run with power, catch passes and protect [pass block].”

Perry wants to be the back that brings back Michigan's once-renowned running game.



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