Though two-way players are embedded in the history of football, in the modern era there’s really only one style you see with any regularity; that being the wide-out/defensive back combination. Even rarer do you see the kind of two-way player Kalel Mullings is — one born out of necessity more than luxury.
Despite the back-and-forth nature of his position changes, Mullings has taken everything the Michigan coaching staff has thrown at him as a badge of honor.
“It’s been a lot,” Mullings said Tuesday evening. “In spring ball, I think it was after one of our special teams periods, Coach Harbaugh just asked me ‘hey man, how would you feel playing a little bit of running back?’ We had talked about it a little bit in recruiting, so I was like yeah coach, of course. So I did it throughout spring ball and maybe the first ten days of camp. One day on offense, one day on defense.
“Then (Nikhai Hill-Green), that whole situation happened and so I was like yeah, I’ll just play defense. We need it, and that’s where I can help the team more. Then once everything with (Blake Corum) happened, (Donovan Edwards) a little bit, then Coach was like ‘how do you feel about going back to offense?’ after Illinois. Started doing that again, doing it pretty much full time.”
Since his shift to running back, Mullings has been used primarily as a short-yardage power back. Mullings racked up his first two career touchdowns on either side of the ball in the Big Ten Championship Game via one and three-yard rushes respectively.
At 6-2 and 232 pounds, Mullings has the frame to bully his way through a scrum and uses his experience at linebacker to maximize that physicality.
“I feel I definitely bring that linebacker mentality,” Mullings said. “The past few weeks it’s just been knocking the rust off, cause it had been a while since I ran the ball. But yeah, I definitely do think that having played linebacker in college and having a feel for that defensive side of the game, bringing that to the offensive side has helped me as well.”
Though the amount of experience on the defensive side of the ball is certainly unique, Mullings isn’t the only Michigan running back to have spent time in both the running back and linebacker rooms. As a true freshman in 2018, Hassan Haskins also spent time with both position groups, before dedicating fully to running back in later seasons.
With Blake Corum out for the College Football Playoff due to the injury suffered against Illinois, it’s likely Mullings will continue to see most of his snaps at running back instead of at linebacker. However, if this season has been any indication, never say never.