The Wolverine

2020 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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58 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY JOHN BORTON O nly two freshman running backs in Michigan history ever topped the 726 yards Zach Charbon- net put in the books in 2019. None could touch the rookie's 11 rushing touchdowns. Not bad for someone who missed spring practice last year following a meniscus cleanup in a knee. Still, Charbonnet spends precisely zero time looking in the rearview mirror these days, except when prodded. He would rather look ahead, and for good reason. "We've just got to keep getting better in every aspect — special teams, offense, defense," Charbonnet insisted. "Just keep improving and doing our thing. We've got to come out with the mentality to crush ev- eryone we play." He's coming out with the mentality to put into action what running backs coach Jay Harbaugh stressed for the days ahead. Harbaugh wants to see more explosiveness out of Michigan's backs. In other words, make one more defender miss. Turn 10-yard gains into 25-yard break- aways, or more. For the sophomore tailback, that's a day at the beach. Many Wolverines are putting their own spin on offseason training, with COVID-19 restrictions keeping them from summering with teammates in Ann Arbor. For a resident of Camarillo, Calif. — about 50 minutes northwest of Los Angeles — it means train- ing with an ocean view. "I've been doing a lot of speed training, a lot of stuff on the beach, a lot of running hills, resistance running," Charbonnet ex- plained. "I'm trying to work on my top-end speed." All of that circles back to the sort of competitor he wants to be. He proved good enough at Oaks Christian School to rush for 4,741 yards and 62 touchdowns over the course of his prep career, including 1,795 yards and 17 scores as a senior. While some freshmen enter Michigan with a serious case of nerves — fretting they'll fall flat on their face the first time they leap to touch the M Club banner — Charbonnet didn't. He relied on his prepara- tion, even without spring ball. "It was a pretty easy transition," he of- fered. "Everyone was very welcoming. As long as you do what you're supposed to do, stay on top of it and manage your time well, it's fairly easy transitioning from high school to college." His smooth move showed from the class- room to his pass protection efforts right out of the gate. The latter isn't something every rookie grasps, by any means. He acknowledged he didn't take the skill for granted, identifying it out as one of the toughest transition points. "Definitely, pass protection was a major thing," Charbonnet asserted. "In high school, there were not a lot of teams that blitzed a lot. In college, the speed of the game was a lot faster. You really have to know the details of the game play — who you have to pick up, what reads you have to make. "The speed of the game and protecting the quarterback were the biggest changes that I got out of it." Head coach Jim Harbaugh went out of his way to praise those early efforts, insisting some veterans don't pass protect the way Charbonnet did early. Jamie Morris — who once held Michi- gan's career rushing record and who now hosts an afternoon sports talk show on WTKA Radio — noticed Charbonnet's pro- tection skills immediately. "Look, he was a freshman," Morris said. "Freshmen think they know what to expect. The game is more physical when you get to this level, and more intense. He was ready for the challenge. "When they played Middle Tennessee State, they were picking up blitzes all day long. That kid, he wasn't afraid to stick his nose in there and block." Running the football effectively took a bit more time, the former Wolverine noted. "He ran the ball well," Morris said. "I just didn't see the explosion in him early. He was more tentative in his running. "I remember one play where there was a gaping hole against Middle Tennessee State, and I thought he should have run through it. He was looking around. What are you look- ing around for? It doesn't get any bigger than that." That changed over the course of the sea- son, the former U-M star insisted. "Yes — he saw the hole and he ran through it," Morris observed. "He ran through people, he ran through arm tackles, he stepped over people trying to trip him. He played football. There was no more second guessing." Charbonnet acknowledged a little tenta- tiveness in the opening two games, even though he carried 33 times for 100 yards and three scores in the double-overtime win against Army. He noted he still experienced a bit of knee pain "here and there," but that it disappeared after the opening two contests. Charbonnet began making defenders dis- appear at a more consistent rate, with some strong games along the way. He notched 116 yards and a touchdown at Illinois, part of a 100-yard backs duo with then redshirt fresh- man Hassan Haskins. He carried 15 times for 81 yards (5.4 aver- age) and two touchdowns at Penn State the next week, in a crushingly close (28-21) loss. Charbonnet acknowledged Michigan's offense learned a tough lesson in that one, in the most difficult road setting he faced as a rookie. "That whiteout game was a pretty crazy environment," Charbonnet recalled. "We just made some careless mistakes. We should have had that game, but there were mistakes early on in the game, and it came and bit us in the butt in the end." Charbonnet's 726 rushing yards ranked third all time among U-M freshmen, while his 11 ground touchdowns became a new school record for rookies. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Zach On Track Zach On Track Zach Charbonnet Stands Ready To Go Bigger And Better In 2020 "He ran through people, he ran through arm tackles, he stepped over people trying to trip him. He played football. There was no more second guessing." FORMER U-M ALL-TIME LEADING RUSHER JAMIE MORRIS ON WHAT HE SAW FROM CHARBONNET AS THE YEAR WENT ON

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