This past week, Jim Harbaugh caused a stir while outlining the running back depth chart entering the summer. While Harbaugh has been at Michigan, he has always used a running back by committee approach, with three, even four, backs sharing carries.
The 2018 season looks to be no different, but there are only two established ball carriers on the roster, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. Speculation has run rampant over who will get the leftover carries. The reported transfer of redshirt sophomore Kareem Walker has eliminated the back with the most prestige coming out of high school. Sophomore O’Maury Samuels got a few carries in garbage time last year, but didn’t show anything special.
Harbaugh shocked the fanbase when he declared that walk-on junior Tru Wilson was currently the leader for a spot in the running back committee. Hailing from De La Salle High School in Warren, Wilson has more pedigree than the average walk-on.
After rushing for 644 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior, Wilson had opportunities to attend all three of the service academies. He also took an official visit to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, but did not report an offer from the Bison. Instead of those options, Wilson decided to walk on with the Wolverines.
Wilson has had minimal contributions in his two seasons on campus so far, competing on special teams and recording one carry against Illinois as a true freshman. However, he has won multiple Scout Team Player of the Week awards, on defense and special teams strangely enough.
With the recent news of Wilson possibly playing a major role this fall, I’ve decided to take a look at his high school tape and see what he will bring to the table as part of Michigan’s stable of running backs.
Check out Wilson’s senior highlights HERE.
Watching his tape, it looks like Wilson’s skill set is more similar to that of Chris Evans’ rather than, say, De’Veon Smith. He is a jitterbug who uses his balance and agility to get to the second level and avoid tacklers.
This stands out the most watching his punt returns, of which there are several included in his film. There are some truly Houdini-like escape acts he accomplishes given space in the open field.
Man, that’s got to be frustrating for an opposing defense. This also shows up when Wilson is actually running the ball.
Here, Wilson shows good vision and agility to see the cutback lane and get all the way across the field to find the endzone. His quick change of direction got the defense out of position and unable to catch up to him.
On this next play, Wilson shows his wiggle in tight spaces. A linebacker goes for his ankles right after he gets past the line of scrimmage, but Wilson bounces away from him, then slips through two more defenders who can’t quite wrap him up. He’s finally brought down by two guys, but not before he squeezes out a yard or two more by trying to spin away.
Wilson demonstrates excellent balance to stay on his feet while jumping away from the first man and deftly avoiding the second. He always keeps his feet moving and stays low to bring down his center of gravity.
I think Wilson will be at his best while given open space to operate in, but he can also work in a phone booth, as shown above. I imagine the coaches giving him a similar package as Evans, who works better in space as well.
The parallels to Evans continue in the pass game. This past season, there was some groaning that Evans wasn’t involved in catching passes as much as he should be. There was a brief glimpse against Rutgers, when he scored on a wheel route, but not much else.
If Harbaugh and Pep Hamilton dedicate themselves to getting more balls to the running backs, Wilson could be a great benefactor.
Wilson runs a wheel route here, getting around the edge quickly. Once he is open in space, he reels in the pass which is slightly ahead of him by his fingertips, while still running all out. Wilson scoring is cut off in this clip, but it looks like he runs through a defender on the goal line.
He does almost the exact same thing later on in his film. The pass is just out in front of him, but Wilson keeps his feet under him and doesn’t get distracted by the wide open end zone in front of him. He focuses on catching the ball, and scores easily.
If Hamilton and Harbaugh are dedicated to the running backs getting involved in the passing game more like they’ve been saying, this will help Wilson’s chances of seeing the field tremendously. There is no question Hamilton can draw up some devious screens and short passes to get Wilson out in the open field.
Running into contact
One issue that I saw pop up on Wilson’s tape is a tendency to search for contact, passing up opportunities to get more yards. This may be a vision problem, or Wilson wanting to show off his power, but there are a handful of plays where he passes up big chunks of yards and even touchdowns in order to run right at a defender.
The play above is set up nicely. Wilson quickly gets to the second level and has space. Once he gets to the 20 yard line, he has a clear path to the end zone if he breaks to the outside and gets to the sideline. There is no one around him, the only defender in the area is a cornerback who is being blocked well by the wide receiver.
Instead, Wilson cuts inside, directly into a linebacker. Wilson does a good job fighting, using his elusiveness to slip free of a gang tackle, gaining another five yards. But he could have made his life a lot easier by just heading to the sideline like running backs are taught, and scoring an easy touchdown.
The same thing happens again later on. This is a scrimmage, so maybe Wilson is trying to show off, but he passes up another chance to score by making a baffling decision to head right at a defender instead of going for the open field.
Wilson does all this work, showcasing his elusiveness again by cutting and juking his way across the field. Once he breaks free and finds himself in the open field, all he has to do is get to the edge and turn the corner to beat the two members of the secondary left. Instead, once he gets to the numbers, he turns up field for some reason, heading right for the defensive back.
Once again, Wilson passes up the chance to score just to take on a willing tackler.
Wilson has some great plays on his film, but in the eight minutes, there aren’t as many of him playing running back as one would like. His highlights are split between him running the ball, returning punts, and playing defense. By the end of it, there are only pedestrian plays of him picking up seven or eight yards chunks, or scoring touchdowns at the goal line. There are limited plays where he stands out and shows he is an elite level talent.
This, of course, is why he was only a two-star coming out of high school. He definitely shows the ability to play at the Division 1 level, but lacks that star quality that would get him Power 5 offers.
After two years in Michigan’s program, Wilson should be able to handle himself with the carries he receives. As the third option in the backfield, Wilson should expect about 75 carries, based on usage in Harbaugh’s first three seasons.
However, there is still a long way to go before the season opener. Michigan has three talented freshmen running backs coming in for summer camp. There is especially a lot of buzz around Christian Turner, the three-star out of Georgia who is the highest ranked out of the three.
Harbaugh could have been using this depth chart as a motivational tactic for O’Maury Samuels or Kurt Taylor, too. This hierarchy is definitely not set in stone, and there is a lot of time before the coaches have to decide.
But if nothing changes and Wilson earns his spot as it stands today, Michigan should still be in a good spot. They have two top flight backs already, and Wilson has shown the ability to make good with the carries he receives.