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How Michigan’s running backs and wideouts have performed this spring

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A look at offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ comments about Michigan’s running backs and receivers.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is entering his third season with the program, and after a lackluster and shortened 2020 campaign, it’s imperative that better results unfold in 2021.

It’s no secret Michigan was very young on the offensive side of the ball last season, skill positions included. To make matters worse, Michigan wasn’t able to have spring practices last season, something that was certainly a detriment to the younger players on the roster.

A year removed from the height of the pandemic, the team has been practicing for over a month, trying to grow, trying to find solutions to problems that plagued them a season ago.

Part of the solutions may reside in the relativity of time.

Players such as quarterback Cade McNamara, running backs Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, wideouts Cornelius Johnson and Mike Sainristil, among others, have had more time to develop, time to grow into their bodies and be comfortable with college speed and the nuances it takes to be successful at their respective positions.

Gattis has been pleased with what he has seen out of the receivers and running backs, and here’s a look at comments he made on the positions earlier this week.

  • On Cornelius Johnson and Mike Sainristil: “Those two guys stand out when you walk out to our field. Seeing the level of consistency that they’re playing with, plays that they’re making are plays that they’re making because of their details. Not because of how athletic or how fast that they are. They’re applying the whole toolbox to allow those guys to be open.”
  • On the rest of the room: “Having a veteran leader like Ronnie Bell, but also having the depth that we have at receiver with A.J. Henning, Roman Wilson, and then also adding our two true freshmen Andrel Anthony, Cristian Dixon. And then this summer we’ll be getting in Xavier Worthy.”
  • Speed at wideout: “We’ve got speed. We’ve got a very fast room, they’re very athletic. They can run, they can move with the ball in their hands, but now it’s about adding the details with the routes, being able to create the separation to be open.”
  • Attributes at wideout beyond speed: “We entirely have the speed needed and now I feel better that we’ve come along with the details. We’ve got some guys right now that are playing at a high level from a details standpoint.”
  • On Hasssan Haskins: “You look at Hassan Haskins, his physicality. He’s a guy that in a normal practice scenario where it’s a tag-off period, you’re gonna look good as a defender because you’re gonna be able to swipe your hands past him and say, ‘I tagged him off.’ Well, Hassan’s physicality, his balance, body control, and contact. He’s one of the hardest backs I’ve been around to tackle. He’s so strong at the point of attack, but he’s a guy that’s shown that in games.”
  • On Blake Corum: “You have a guy like Blake Corum who’s really a combination of everything — strength, speed, and power. But now we’ve been able to see the growth of Blake from Year 1 to Year 2. I think one of Blake’s biggest challenges last year is he relied so heavily on speed. He didn’t have patience going to the hole. Now he understands what it takes to be a high-level, collegiate running back. The plays he’s been making in practice. We all know that once he gets to the second level, there’s no one that can run with him or catch him. He’s been able now to have a better feel for the position and patience has really paid off for him. He’s also got really elite ball skills out of the backfield.”
  • On Donovan Edwards: “And then add Donovan Edwards. As I’ve said before, there are certain guys you say, quote-unquote, ‘that guy’s a five-star’. It’s pretty obvious when you look at players they’re gonna be five-stars as you want them to look. And Donovan has met those expectations. He’s flied each and every day on the field, not only with his ability to run the ball but also his ability to catch the ball. He had a big play yesterday in practice where he ran a sideline for 50 yards. He’s special. I think it’s gonna continue to take time to grasp the whole offense down, so he can continue to have that discipline on every play and that consistency on every play. But he’s gonna have a very, very bright future here at Michigan.”
  • The trio of Haskins, Corum, Edwards: “Those three guys are what the running back room is supposed to look like, and you get really high and excited about it.”

Objectively speaking, it seems like Gattis should be excited about the potential of Michigan’s running back group. Haskins is a bell-cow if need be and one heck of a physical runner that should only fare better in 2021. Corum showed flashes of his potential in terms of shiftiness, but as well as his pass-catching abilities and sneaky physicality. And Edwards, well, he’s still young in his Michigan career but players and coaches have been incredibly impressed by Edwards’ speed.

When it comes to Michigan’s receiving group, it’s going to be a very much ‘see it to believe it’ type of vibe from outsiders looking in. There were plenty of dropped passes and miscommunication that really put a major dent in the passing operation in 2020. With that said, the likes of Ronnie Bell, Cornelius Johnson, and Mike Sainristil have all made varying degrees of solid plays to this point in their Michigan careers. But Michigan needs elite play out of this unit to reach the high bar they set for themselves each and every year.

Michigan’s offense is on better footing than they were at this time last year, whether that leads to better production remains to be seen, but it’s reasonable to assume that there will be more cohesion coming to Michigan Stadium on Saturday’s this fall.