The Wolverine

November 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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NOVEMBER 2020 THE WOLVERINE 25 BY JOHN BORTON C hris Evans couldn't do anything 12 months ago, except look on and watch rookies handle the job he once figured belonged to him in 2019. A year and considerable wisdom later, Evans is back. He's battling players who are now veterans in a race to run the football for Michigan. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis discovered quickly that the fifth-year senior knows what he's doing. "Chris has been everything as ad- vertised, from a skill set standpoint," Gattis assured. "He's a very, very smart football player and a quiet leader who is very professional. There are times out there he sur- prises me, and times I have to re- mind myself this guy has played college football for five years. "Whether it's a blitz pick- up, or little nuances with a route, creating separation, he's played a lot of football. He's what you expect a senior run- ning back to look like and to act like, in approach, each and every day in practice. He's done an amazing job learning the offense." He's had to do so largely apart from teammates. He hasn't car- ried the ball for the Wolverines since the 2018 Peach Bowl, and he enjoyed what Gattis termed "very little conversation" with the OC last year, while sitting out a suspension. N o w t h e 5 - 1 1 , 216-pounder is back, with 1,722 career rushing yards and 14 touch- downs (plus another 392 yards and two scores through the air) behind him. Those numbers and $4.75 will get him a Caramel Macchiato at Star- bucks. As noted, the rookies aren't rookies anymore, and they're not giv- ing an inch. Sophomore tailback Zach Charbon- net paced the Wolverines' runners a year ago, piling up 726 yards on 149 carries (4.9 average) with 11 touch- downs. He did so after overcoming offseason knee surgery, and Gattis knows what that took. "Zach is playing at such a high level," the OC said. "It's great to see Zach out there being who he is. Zach is tough. He battled through some injuries in high school. He came in a little banged up and needed to get cleaned up, then he battled through some injuries last year. "To see a guy who was a true fresh- man battle through adversity and in- juries, and still play the full season says a lot. He's been able to spend this offseason focusing on his body. First and foremost, the dude is as chiseled as can be. He takes such great care of his body — it's really impressive." Furthermore, Charbonnet contin- ues working on the strength and ex- plosiveness to deliver the breakaway runs Gattis hopes for out of his backs this season. "Going into year two, having a bet- ter feel for the run schemes and every- thing, he's been impressive out there," Gattis said. "He looks like a totally different player, and everyone is go- ing to see an even better player than what you saw last year." Michigan's OC feels so good about what he's witnessing, he was willing to experiment with U-M's second- leading returning rusher in a two- back situation. Redshirt sophomore Hassan Haskins (622 yards, four TDs in 2019) will use both his blocking and rushing skills to further the Wolver- ines' ground attack. "You saw a room that was com- pletely new last year have to learn a new offense and get first-time playing time. Everyone in that room had to face adversity," Gattis said. "Coach Jay [Harbaugh] did a tremendous job of bringing those guys along. "We weren't quite pleased with where they were at the start of the season, but when you look at where we finished the season, I felt great about our running back room." The room expanded even more recently, when redshirt sophomore back Christian Turner did a 180 on his original decision to sit out the season. Meanwhile, true freshman Blake Co- rum, who rushed for 2,700 yards and 39 touchdowns as a prep junior and senior, looks fast, skilled and relent- less, according to his new boss. All in all, Gattis' crew went from unproven to unleashed, no matter who starts. ❑ MORE UPSIDE THAN ANYTHING FOR THE BACKS Head coach Jim Harbaugh insists "it's a loaded room" when talking about Michigan's running backs. Here's the big plus and a possible misgiving when it comes to this crew: Biggest Strength: This involves Michigan's talented depth. The Wolverines feature three backs who have started games, and all have rushed for 600-plus yards in a season. Mix in a talented freshman and an- other still-young back looking to crack into the heavy action, and there's little doubt this crew is ready for the long haul, even in a shortened season. Biggest Concern: Every- one knows this group can run. Can it block? That will be something to prove over the course of the season. The Wolver- ines feature several smaller receivers this year, and they're making noise about toughness and aggres- sion. The backs must follow suit. — John Borton OLD HANDS JAM PACK THE BACKS' QUARTERS RUNNING BACKS Fifth-year senior Chris Evans is back after missing last season due to suspension and has earned the praise of offensive coordina- tor Josh Gattis, who called him "a very, very smart football player and a quiet leader who is very professional." PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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