There are many uncertainties surrounding college football right now. The 2020 season is still in jeopardy, and even if a season does occur it might do so with empty stadiums or a limited schedule. Still, it is never too early to take a look at the Michigan depth chart and the players slated to contribute whenever football does resume. Join us as we comb through the roster and answer key questions heading into this fall.
Ben Mason, true SR
247 Composite Ranking: 3 stars (ILB 32, Overall 816)
2019 Stats: 1 rush, 3 yards, 0 TD; 7 tackles
Fullback has been a staple of the Jim Harbaugh offense, but the hiring of Josh Gattis threatened to bring about change. If his first year in Ann Arbor is any indication, the offense under Gattis will continue to move away from the ground-and-pound looks of the past and instead move toward scheming open players and attacking space, leaving behind old school formations in the past.
Nevertheless, Ben Mason will carry the mantle of fullback one last time. A brief stint on the defensive line was not so fruitful, and it became clear where his true home is. With Ben VanSumeren somewhat following in his footsteps and also moving to the defensive side of the ball, Mason will be the lone remnant of the fullback position for the Wolverines in 2020.
How much will Michigan leverage Mason and the fullback position?
Fullback is perhaps one of the least glamorous positions, although under Harbaugh it became fairly exciting to watch. From Khalid Hill’s 10 touchdowns in 2016 to Mason’s seven scores in 2018, the role was not limited to just blocking and creating holes for the running backs. But with Gattis now in town and options like Zach Charbonnet in short yardage situations, one has to wonder if that chapter is now over.
Mason has been an excellent fullback at Michigan, hammering defenders at the line and picking up tough yards when needed. It is too bad that his switch to the defensive line did not work out, but that was probably just too much to ask at this stage in his career. What can be taken away from last season is his effort and willingness to put the team first, showing his versatility and desire to contribute wherever possible.
Gattis is a bright offensive mind, and there are probably ways that he can leverage a fullback this season. With Mason making the switch back and VanSumeren vacating the position, the senior should have some opportunities to see the field and reprise his role from two seasons prior. It will look different than it did before, and his number of carries will likely drop, but this seems like the best case given the circumstances.
What is most intriguing about Mason this year is what we can take away about the role of the fullback going forward. Under his first two seasons, Mason was groomed to do a specific job, and he did it well. Gattis may just choose to lean on that and then let the position fade out once he graduates. But maybe he has something else up his sleeve and is willing to unleash Mason in new ways in front of an impressive running back corps. It may not be the most crucial or exciting unknown to follow this season, but it could be helpful in figuring out the future.