About five minutes into his press conference Wednesday morning, Jim Harbaugh was asked about Ben VanSumeran. Questions about younger guys — in this case, a sophomore running back who appeared in four games last season, narrowly avoiding a redshirt — are what spring pressers are for. Hype builds and, most often, recedes by the time the season gets underway. The media tries to figure out the depth chart, and who’s playing where.
In the case of Michigan football under Harbaugh, the operative word in that sentence has been tries.
Harbaugh is famously secretive, rarely forthcoming. He dismisses questions about injuries. When an outlet tried to file a Freedom of Information Request to figure out the most basic of things: the roster, before the 2017 season, it was stonewalled. A depth chart has long been considered out of the question. Let alone as a response to a question that didn’t ask for it.
“I would call it a hybrid in the sense that a tailback can also be an H-back,” Harbaugh said of VanSumeran’s position. “But he is definitely cemented in the running back rotation as well.”
Then he kept going.
“Right now Tru Wilson is the starter (at running back). Julian Garrett’s backing up or — Ben VanSumeren’s the backup tailback right now, second team, then Julian. Nick Capatina is a person who tried out who’s in school here and tried out and looks like he’s making the team.
“Christian Turner is—I think we’ll have Christian back either this Sunday or by the following Friday practice, so Christian should make it back for four or five practices. He had a soft tissue, hamstring, early on in practice, like day two. But he’s progressing well.
“Hassan Haskins has also been limited this spring. He has a prior meniscus that’s—trying to get through what he can in spring ball, and so far it’s been a couple practices. May make it back for some practices toward the end but I think he’s gonna need a procedure when spring football practice is over. Zach Charbonnet is coming along really well. He had an existing injury coming out of high school that was fixed when he got here in January. Not going to be able to do any spring ball this session but he’ll be back and will do fine.”
Got that? Good, because it wasn’t the end. By the end, Harbaugh had noted Lucas Andrighetto’s ACL tear, as well as the sophomore’s achievements in his high school championship game. Andrighetto, mind you, played zero games last year, and likely wouldn’t this year even if healthy.
By the end, Harbaugh had been talking for 10 minutes straight, touching on seven different positional groups and giving a verbal depth chart for each of them.
No surprises here. The Wolverines return four starters — Jon Runyan Jr., Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz and Michael Onwenu, from left to right — and according to Harbaugh, they will remain the starters.
At right tackle, where Michigan is looking for a replacement for the graduated Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Harbaugh said junior Andrew Stueber and sophomore Jalen Mayfield are “neck and neck.”
Still, for a unit that was a constant source of questions last year, this is a welcome calm.
“We’ve got the guys all around and one of the things that we really have is an offensive line that can drive our offense,” said offensive coordinator Josh Gattis on Mar. 22. “I would say that’s the strength of our offense right now.”
If the offensive line looks every bit as expected, the receiving corps is the complete opposite. Harbaugh named early enrollee Mike Sainristil, junior Oliver Martin and redshirt sophomore Tarik Black as the current starters.
That comes with some injury caveats — junior Nico Collins, the Wolverines’ leading receiver last season, is rehabbing from surgery, per Harbaugh, and progressing well. Things may not be quite as good for Donovan Peoples-Jones.
The junior is dealing with a soft-tissue groin injury, according to Harbaugh, that’s lingering longer than the program anticipated. Harbaugh grouped Peoples-Jones in with defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour as having, “more serious injuries than we previously thought,” saying they could potentially miss game-time.
It does, however, seem that Sainristil’s chances of getting on the field are very much real.
“He has a level of quickness, change of direction, speed,” Harbaugh said. “Been really eye-opening and really good for the team.”
With Dwumfour’s injury potentially lasting into the season, 3-technique becomes a question in need of an answer. For now, Harbaugh is turning to junior Donovan Jeter, who he says, “appears hellbent on being the starting defensive tackle,” though Ben Mason has gotten in the mix as well.
The rest of the front four — Aidan Hutchinson, Carlo Kemp and Kwity Paye — seem fairly set, though there is some fluctuation amongst the backups. In addition to Mason, Harbaugh named Mazi Smith, Luiji Vilain, Julius Welschof, Taylor Upshaw and Gabe Newburg as players competing for time.
Harbaugh named the current quarterback depth chart last week: Shea Patterson, Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton, and it remains unchanged.
Unsurprisingly, Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks are the current starters at tight end.
Right now, Josh Uche, Devin Gil and Josh Ross lead the two-deep at Sam, Will and Mike linebackers, respectively.
Quinn Nordin and Jake Moody, who took the starting kicking job at the end of last season, are in a tight competition for the role this season.
Peoples-Jones and Dwumfour are the only injuries deemed serious by Harbaugh. Cornerback Lavert Hill is currently rehabbing from a procedure, Harbaugh said, but may be able to make it back for some of spring ball.
With Hill out, Vince Gray is starting at corner alongside Ambry Thomas, with Brad Hawkins at nickel. Harbaugh also named Josh Metellus and J’Marick Woods as the two starting safeties.