Mike Hart isn't looking to replace Hassan Haskins, he is looking to utilize his running backs where they play best. Jenna Hickey/Daily. Buy this photo.

When the Michigan football team took the field Saturday before its season opener, Hassan Haskins did the same. The former Wolverines’ running back loitered in the back of the endzone, sporting shorts and a t-shirt, ready to watch his alma mater. 

It’s still a weird proposition to consider Michigan without Haskins; he anchored the offense last season and his domineering, five touchdown performance against Ohio State is cemented in lore. But the Wolverines, with junior Blake Corum and sophomore Donvoan Edwards, are still equipped to produce from the running back position. 

Michigan running back coach Mike Hart’s coaching philosophy in the wake of Haskins’ departure is relatively simple. He hasn’t tried to mold someone into something they’re not; square pegs aren’t designed for round holes. 

“Every back is different,” Hart said Wednesday. “Hassan Haskins was a special player. There’s not many guys like him. … I think that, as good coaches, we take advantage of whatever strengths our players have. So there’s not a replacement, there’s not a person I’m looking for saying, ‘He’s the next Hassan.’ I’m gonna make Blake (Corum) the best Blake (Corum) he can be, Donovan Edwards the best Donovan Edwards he can be, C.J. Stokes the best C.J. Stokes he can be. That’s how you have success in the long run, using guys’ strengths to their advantage.

“To me, it’s what are their strengths and let’s figure it out from there.” 

The Wolverines’ Week One victory offered a glimpse into the Michigan’s post-Haskins plan. Corum carried the ball 13 times for 76 yards and a touchdown; Edwards notched 12 carries for 64 yards and a score, too. 

That production is borne out of Hart’s strategy. For instance, when Corum decided to bulk up over the offseason, adding 12 pounds to an already sturdy frame, it wasn’t under any direction to fill Haskins’ shoes. Instead, he did so because he felt more comfortable maintaining a 210 pound frame. 

Hart isn’t trying to mold Corum — or anyone else — to be as bruising as Haskins, partially because he feels that short yardage backs are not limited to specific body archetypes. 

“I thought I was a pretty good short yardage back and I was 205 pounds,” Hart said with a laugh. “To me, it just comes down to contact balance. Do you keep your legs moving? How’s your pad level? Then you have to be able to make people miss in short areas. I don’t look at weight, I don’t look at those things.

“A big back can be 195 pounds. It’s just how you run, what’s your mentality, at the end of the day.” 

Hart conceded that few players can match Haskins’ prowess, though he quickly admitted that Michigan is not concerned with finding one replacement. The running back room is rife with talent: Corum and Edwards comprise a dynamic 1-2 punch and, most importantly, bring versatile skill sets. 

Edwards, in particular, is deft at splitting out wide. Last season, he made history with 10 catches and 170 yards against Maryland, a program record amongst running backs. Though Edwards — and Corum — are primarily with Hart in practice, Michigan receivers coach Ron Bellamy is a frequent visitor, helping the pair sharpen their route running capabilities; the goal is an expanded role on offense. 

This all ties in with Hart’s philosophy. Edwards and Corum wouldn’t be in that position if they couldn’t do it. 

“I don’t want guys splitting out running go routes who can’t run go routes,” Hart said. “It doesn’t mean you’re not good. Guys have different strengths. I don’t care how much you weigh, I don’t care what size you are. At the end of the day, I’m gonna use you the way I see fit so we can win games.” 

What else can Corum and Edwards bring to the table this year?

Linebacker Kalel Mullings, who spent time with the running backs during spring ball, knows better than most. 

“Some of the times when (Corum’s) slow and then sees a hole and hits it really fast, in my head I’m like, ‘Dang, how did that guy do that?,’” Mullings said. “It’s really impressive. 

“And then the same thing with (Donovan). He brings out that quickness and the bursts as well. But then in the passing game, it’s just a whole ‘nother monster and I knew that playing defense, covering the guy. But seeing how he can break people down, run routes, sit down in zones when he has to, going over the offense and playing running back made me admire those guys even more because it put me in their shoes and seeing how they’re able to succeed the way they do, it’s impressive.” 

That holds true for Edwards as much as the other running backs. Hart, meanwhile, is going to make sure he puts them in the best position to maximize their talent.