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Michigan 2020 spring football preview: Running Backs

The backfield is crowded and talented.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

To quote the 2008 comedy Role Models, “Diana has put away her bosom. Apollo has lifted his skirt. The day has been launched.” The sun is shining, temperatures are in the high... 40’s, and spring football is rapidly approaching in Ann Arbor.

Ahead of the start of spring football, Maize n Brew is previewing the 2020 Michigan football team position by position.

Yesterday was quarterbacks, today is one of the most oddly experienced units, running backs.


The Dearly Departed

After battling injury issues early in 2019 and being swallowed up by the talented depth chart, former walk-on Tru Wilson will be pursuing a graduate transfer after finishing his undergraduate degree in May.

Wilson was the team’s third leading rusher in 2019 (221 yards), but saw his total touches and yards drop from the previous season. While Wilson’s experience and pass blocking prowess will be missed, his departure will have minimal impact in 2020.

Tale of Two Bell Cows

Sophomore Zach Charbonnet and redshirt sophomore Hassan Haskins combined for 270 carries, 1,348 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns last season. While Charbonnet had the nose for the end zone (11 touchdowns), it was Haskins who produced the most dominant single game performance to the tune of 20 carries and 149 yards against rival Notre Dame.

The season played out differently for both guys, with each dominating a different half of the season.

First seven games- Charbonnet: 94 carries, 457 yards; Haskins: 39 carries, 217 yards

Last six games- Charbonnet: 55 carries, 269 yards; Haskins 82 carries, 405 yards

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

While ultimately productive, both backs were very raw in 2019 battling fumbles, missed blocking assignments and missed running lanes. Charbonnet was the rare 18-year-old starter who was never 100 percent healthy and was learning on the fly. Haskins is a former linebacker who switched positions, missed all of last spring and had to relearn a position he hadn’t played since high school.

Charbonnet and Haskins are 1A and 1B entering the spring and will likely remain that way into the fall. Both players deserve more carries in 2020 and the two-man system should allow them to stay healthy deep into November.

The true battle will take place behind them.

Who will be RB No. 3?

Whether it be a change-of-pace third down back or the inevitability of injuries at the position, teams must have a capable third-string running back. The Wolverines will have a battle between redshirt sophomore Christian Turner and early enrollee true freshman Blake Corum.

Turner was a player on transfer watch after a myriad of injuries and being seemingly buried on the depth chart after being 2019’s Week 1 starter. But contrary to most in his position, Turner is remaining at Michigan and will compete for situational snaps with the highly touted freshman.

Corum is an electric back with excellent balance and speed. While on the smaller side in high school, being an early enrollee allows Corum time to bulk up within a college strength and conditioning program.

Preserving eligibility may be the best move with Corum especially if his first year ceiling is only as a third stringer. Not to mention, the return of Captain America.

The Chris Evans Conundrum

Michigan’s most experienced and least experienced running back returns in 2020. With over 2,000 scrimmage yards and 16 touchdowns to his name, Chris Evans returns to the Wolverines after being suspended for the entire 2019 season due to academic reasons.

Evans last appeared in a game for Michigan on Dec. 29, 2018, against Florida. Aquaman was No. 1 at the box office and Ariana Grande was atop the Billboard Hot 100. He went from running zone reads to running deliveries for a Greek restaurant in Ann Arbor in a span of six months.

How quickly can Evans learn Josh Gattis’ offense? How quickly can he get back up to game speed?

Evans is the biggest wild card on the entire team. He could become a starter, second string, third string, or some situational hybrid H-back receiver similar to Giles Jackson.

Regardless of where he is positioned on the depth chart, Evans is a weapon for this offense and a leader for a team in desperate need of one. Not many college kids could endure what he went through and come back to compete again.

Beef — It’s what’s for dinner (sometimes)

While the fullback position was less prominent in 2019 than ever before under Jim Harbaugh, Ben VanSumeren and Ben Mason remain the two names to watch in short yardage and goal-line situations.

VanSumeren saw his first career rushing action in 2019 to the small note of 9 carries and 1 touchdown. VanSumeren will be the No. 1 fullback option in 2020, but under offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, his usage outside of blocking will remain situational.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Mason, now primarily a rotational defensive tackle, cannot be forgotten due to his explosive 2018: 33 carries, 7-touchdown sophomore campaign. Forced positional changes due to offensive schematics and untimely penalties limited Mason in 2019, but he has always been a favorite of the coaching staff due to his tireless work ethic.

Outside of the aforementioned two, Gattis likes to feature tight ends lined as fullbacks for pass catching ability, so do not be surprised to see Erick All return to the backfield in 2020.

The biggest question facing this group in 2020: Can Michigan find a consistent rushing attack and break the fumbling curse?

Of the 12 regular season games, Michigan had four games with less than 100 rushing yards, four games with more than 150, and four in between. The Wolverines will need a more balanced attack, and in Gattis’ second season as play caller the backs should get that opportunity.

As far as reducing fumbles (losing Shea Patterson helps), it will take a concerted effort among all, but the attitude should be, “Whatever it takes.” Whether that be making the backs carry balls around campus like Darnell Jefferson in The Program or only practice with greased up balls. But yelling, ‘HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL!” was too prevalent in the Big House in 2019.

The running back room is as talented as it has ever been, and answering this question will be conducive to overall success in 2020.

Tomorrow, we will have a preview of the wide receiver position group.