The Wolverine

2020 Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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62 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW RUNNING BACKS BY JOHN BORTON M ichigan's running backs room looked like the old freshman locker room at the start of the 2019 fall training camp. Karan Higdon, a 1,000-yard rusher, was long gone. Veteran Chris Evans was sus- pended. Michigan running backs coach Jay Harbaugh and new offensive coordina- tor Josh Gattis eyed freshmen and redshirt freshmen that hadn't gained an inch. What a difference a year makes. Harbaugh and Gattis are now looking at a room with four backs that combined for 1,942 yards in their last season of action. That's 2019 for sophomore Zach Charbonnet (726), redshirt sophomore Hassan Haskins (622) and redshirt sophomore Christian Turner (171), and 2018 for Evans (423), a fifth-year senior. "It's a packed room right now," noted Ja- mie Morris, Michigan's top tailback in Jim Harbaugh's playing days and now a sports talk afternoon host on WTKA radio. "Look, that running backs room is powerful. All those kids want to play. "Plus, they've got a running back coming in that is hungry." He's talking about Blake Corum, the in- coming freshman back out of St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. It all makes for some serious competition, and a potential dyna- mite package that position coach Jay Har- baugh wants to see explode. He even talked about explosiveness when it comes to Charbonnet and Haskins in par- ticular. Harbaugh wants their medium-length runs to turn into more through their own growth process. "[For Haskins], being able to open up his hips and improve his stride length, turn some of those seven- to 15-yard runs into really big ones. … I think everybody respects the way he plays and loved watching him run last year, [but] Hassan would be the first to tell you he wants to turn some of those runs into even bigger ones," Harbaugh said. "Finding ways to make that extra hat miss and turning some of those medium runs into huge ones is going to be a good difference for him. "For Zach, it's really not super different. We need to turn some of these medium runs into explosive, home-run ones that send The Big House into an eruption. Both those guys are kind of the same focus. I really believe with the experience, the confidence, continu- ing to understand the system, where the un- blocked defenders are … just running with more confidence, they're both going to make a lot of improvements in that area." Having a fifth-year senior back reinserted into the mix should do nothing but help, in Harbaugh's mind. "It's been great to have Chris back," Har- baugh said. "He's been doing an awesome job, just getting himself familiarized with everything, learning a new system. He's re- ally into the details of the game, learning the bigger picture — what are the linemen do- ing? What's the defense trying to do? What do we call this? "He's always asking me extra questions. His personality and his passion for learning have really suited him well during this time." Add in Turner, Corum and senior Ben Mason as a fullback/short-yardage hammer, and the Wolverines appear well stocked for a physical Big Ten season. Harbaugh knows he likes what he sees when he looks around. "It's a blessing to have a great group of guys," Harbaugh said. "Chris is the crafty vet. He's got experience, and I'm excited for him to be able to share that with the other guys. We're just going to keep growing and getting better as a group, competing. I know the end result of that is that everybody will get a lot better. "When it comes down to it, you need a few guys to be ready to play. Crazy things happen over the year. You need a deep room. One of the things we all love about Coach Gat is that he loves to play multiple backs." Charbonnet led the way not only in rush- ing yardage last year but touchdowns as well, with 11. He missed spring practice with an injury in 2019, but threw himself into action in the fall, developing as a strong pass blocker as well as a capable runner. In Morris' view, Charbonnet learned more physicality as he went along in his rookie season. "For Charbonnet, he learned from watch- ing how Haskins ran the ball," Morris noted. "That's how he kept himself in the game — picking up blitzes, running in key spots. You don't ever take yourself out of the game. QUICK FACTS Position Coach: Jay Harbaugh (sixth season, fourth with running backs). Returning Starters: TB Zach Charbonnet (6 career starts) and TB Hassan Haskins (6). Departing Starter: None. Projected New Starter: None. Top Reserves: Charbonnet or Haskins, TB Chris Evans (5), TB Blake Corum and FB Ben Mason (3). Wait Until 2021: TB Christian Turner. Newcomer: Corum. Moved In: Mason (from DT). Moved Out: FB Ben VanSumeren (to LB) and TB Tru Wilson (transferred to Northern Colorado). Rookie Impact: Corum. Most Improved Player: Haskins. Best Pro Prospect: Charbonnet. Full Stable Backfield Combines Talent, Experience And Hunger

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