Zach Charbonnet and his usage in recent weeks has come into question by the Michigan faithful after looking like he was going to be the lead running back as a freshman after the first two weeks of the year.
Leading up the the Wisconsin game, rumors from the darker corners of social media and message boards popped up saying that the true freshman rusher had a knee problem that would potentially require surgery. That wound up being false, as he would suit up for the game in Madison and play this past weekend against Rutgers, however, his workload has been noticeably lighter in recent weeks after having 33 caries in the win over Army.
After eight carries for 90 yards in the opener against Middle Tennessee and then the massive workload against Army, Charbonnet has had only seven combined carries in two games since (two at Wisconsin, five vs. Rutgers), so what exactly is going on there?
“We’re limiting his carries,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said on Monday. “How many carries, not really, but how many plays he’s actually in there. You don’t always know whether it’s going to be a run or a throw, depending on the play. Like the fact that you could split it up, maybe 20-20-20 and maybe a few for a fourth guy.
“Zach, played really well. Christian Turner played really well in this game and had some fine runs. Hassan Haskins, really played well. We’ve been watching Hassan making strides in practice and to see him play that way in the game. Redshirt freshman, Hassan Haskins, has really come on. We’re excited about the way he played. As I said, the other backs played real good, too.”
As far as what Harbaugh sees on the field, if there’s some sort of injury concern other than wearing Charbonnet out by running him into the ground, the coach seems taken aback by continued questions that there might be something going on.
“He looks good. When I watch him move, he looks good,” Harbaugh said. “Looks good moving and he looks good running. I thought the 33 carries (against Army) was way too many. Wanted to limit having one back carry the ball 33 times.
“In totality, that’s not something we want to strive for with our running backs. Occasionally that may occur, but not something I think you want to consistently do with running backs.”
Michigan needed Charbonnet against Army because none of its other backs could pass protect or hold onto the football, which put them into a really tough spot. He would only have 100 yards on the day at 3.3 yards per carry. Still, he does feel like the back with the most amount of upside, but Christian Turner has made a case for snaps, as well. Without anyone truly emerging from the pack as the must-have, go-to runner in the offense, the backfield rotation feels as if it will continue moving forward.
Fans may want to see them run Charbonnet 25-30 times a game, but if there’s even an inkling of a feeling that he might not hold up, it does them no good to burn him out this year. The Wolverines need him healthy for 3-4 years, not just this one, so concerns about his long-term health, especially after dealing with an injury in spring football, have to be weighed.
His workload and snap count will continue to be watched moving forward, but for now, the Wolverines maintain the only concern is running him too much in the vacuum of a single game. They’ll continue to go about things as they have and if there’s a hot hand in a game, they will ride it. Until a time comes where he’s clearly head and shoulders above everyone else in their eyes, it feels like they will keep going this route.
It seems at least a little fishy that his workload decrease comes on the heels of rumors about his health, but we will see where it goes from here.