ALTIMORE SUN NOT BLADE Enlarge
ANN ARBOR -- When discussing the Michigan football team's defense, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison wasn't giving much away after the first two days of preseason practices.
Conversely, offensive coordinator Al Borges was more forthcoming, particularly in discussing Michigan's contingency plans at tailback.
In the wake of Fitzgerald Toussaint's suspension, Borges said 5-foot-10, 217-pound sophomore Thomas Rawls will get his chance to fill the hole left by Toussaint, who is suspended indefinitely after he was charged with operating a vehicle while impaired last month.
"We're just going to the next guy," Borges said Wednesday at Schembechler Hall. "We're not really changing anything. Thomas Rawls is going to be that next guy. Vincent [Smith] is going to do what he's done and on we go."
Toussaint's availability for the season opener Sept. 1 against Alabama in the Cowboys Classic at Arlington, Texas, remains unclear.
"The key to these situations, from the game-plan perspective, is to try to make it as seamless as you can, and just go," Borges said.
Borges described Rawls' style of play as "reckless" -- one of many modifiers bestowed upon the sophomore since the Big Ten media days two weeks ago in Chicago. Rawls had 79 yards on 13 carries in 10 games last season, but in April's spring game Rawls scored a pair of touchdowns and finished with 42 yards on 10 carries.
"He runs with a demeanor that's aggressive," Borges said of Rawls. "He looks like he's mad when he runs. But he's a tough guy. When you hit him, you're going to feel it. I promise you that, you're going to feel it. There's times when he's just simply not interested in avoiding you."
Borges didn't count out Toussaint either.
"Thomas is going to get a good chance, and Fitz is going to get a good chance," Borges said. "Justice Hayes is in the fold too."
Smith, a senior, played primarily as a third-down back last season in 12 games, with 298 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries. Smith also caught 11 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns last season. Hayes, a redshirt freshman, is a former four-star recruit out of Grand Blanc High School in Flint, Mich.
Borges also discussed the coaching staff's plans for Devin Gardner, whom he deemed Michigan's No. 2 quarterback but who has taken reps at wide receiver.
Using Gardner at wide receiver, Borges said, will be based upon UM's game plan.
"We're developing him at two different positions, but that's a challenge," Borges said. "For a kid to be an occasional player, that's one thing, but for a guy to be splitting at two positions, that's a challenge. We're going to see how that shakes out. That's still in the embryonic stages."
Unlike Borges, Mattison wasn't ready to brand the whole or parts of his defensive unit, which was fourth in team defense in the Big Ten last season, giving up 322.2 yards a game.
"Everything starts all over again every season," Mattison said.
Still, he saw more of a sense of familiarity among UM's returning defensive players.
"Last year at this time, it was probably like they were taking a foreign language," said Mattison, who is in his second season as Michigan's defensive coordinator. "Now they kind of understand it. When that happens, then you can get into the little things that make that defense even better."
But Mattison agreed with one aspect that Michigan coach Brady Hoke lauded earlier in the week: the Wolverines' physicality in the opening days of practice without full pads until Friday.
Mattison was frank: That kind of tone is essential during the preseason.
"You never know about your team until the bullets start flying," Mattison said. "Until you really, really start getting tired, getting banged up, hitting.
"How does the team react then? That's why Brady runs a very, very physical camp. That's why that part of it is something you have to work through, and you have to make sure you can handle it, because that's how it is in the Big Ten Conference."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.