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Who will ease the burden on Corum and Edwards as Michigan’s RB-3?

An overlooked position for most teams, the third running back option is one of the most important roles for the Wolverines.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Michigan coaching staff likes players they can trust. Players they can trust make the right read, decision, and most importantly, players they can trust to protect the football.

Over the last two seasons, the Michigan Wolverines have only lost seven fumbles, which only trails Ohio State and Minnesota in the Big Ten. Ball security is a core tenant of winning and the position most charged with upholding this principle is the running back.

Michigan is fortunate to have the best running-back duo in college football. Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards are both All-American caliber players who will carry the largest burden for Michigan’s skill position players this fall.

However, both players have missed substantial time due to injuries in each of the last two seasons. To help prevent this from recurring again this season, the Wolverines will need a reliable third option to emerge at the running back position.

A few names have emerged from the pack, but which one of these three can Michigan trust the most?

Benjamin Hall

The standout player from this year’s spring game, Benjamin Hall shocked everyone when he rushed for over 100 yards and one touchdown in the Wolverines’ annual scrimmage. Hall – a former three-star recruit from Georgia – is the popular pick now because there is no baggage with him.

Unlike the other two candidates, Hall has never fumbled the ball or missed a block while wearing the maize and blue. However, he is a freshman, which means he is statistically more likely to commit a few mistakes while he adjusts to the college game.

Will Harbaugh trust a freshman to shoulder the weight of the third running back? He did it with Donovan Edwards as a freshman, so if Hall can prove himself, Harbaugh will trust him.

Kalel Mullings

Kalel Mullings switched from linebacker to running back the Monday before the Ohio State game. Besides repping at running back during the spring, Mullings had never carried the football during his time in Ann Arbor.

Mullings carried the ball twice against Ohio State — once for no gain, and once for an iconic play that will live in Michigan lore forever. Facing a critical third-and-one, Mullings took the hand-off, but instead of rushing into the line of scrimmage, he rose up and fired a jump pass to tight end Luke Schoonmaker for a first down.

The former linebacker would chip in two rushing touchdowns against Purdue in the Big Ten Championship, but the clock struck midnight on Mullings’s Cinderella season against TCU in the College Football Playoff.

Inches from the goal line, Mullings mishandled the exchange with JJ McCarthy and TCU recovered the fumbled ball. Mullings would redeem himself by scoring a touchdown later in the game, but it was too late. The fumble at the goal line is burned into everyone’s memory and epitomizes Michigan fumbling away the game.

For better or worse, Harbaugh has shown he trusts Mullings in the biggest moments of the biggest games. But will he trust him the same this season with a little extra baggage?

CJ Stokes

CJ Stokes was Michigan’s third-leading running back last year in terms of attempts and yards. As a freshman, Stokes displayed great burst and elusiveness early in the season. However, his inaugural campaign was plagued by fumbles and confidence issues. So much so, walk-on Isaiah Gash usurped him as RB-3 against Illinois.

Can he escape the doghouse? Unfortunately, Stokes was limited in the spring with an injury so he will have to rebuild trust in the fall. It would be foolish to discount a player after a few fumbles as a freshman. But if Stokes drops the ball – literally and figuratively – this season, he will once again be buried behind the walk-ons.