For the first time in his tenure as head coach of the Michigan football team, Jim Harbaugh has stability and depth at the quarterback and wide receiver positions. With senior Shea Patterson and redshirt sophomore Dylan McCaffrey vying to man the offense and the experienced trio of junior wide receivers Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins finally healthy, the Wolverines possess one of the best passing attacks in the Big Ten.
But one of the first questions that Harbaugh fielded at the Big Ten Football Media Day on July 19 was about the battle at running back. Last year, then-senior Karan Higdon and then-junior Chris Evans dominated snaps as expected. And though Higdon graduated, Michigan was supposed to have at least one veteran running back with plenty of snaps under his belt in Evans.
Until he was suspended for the season.
As a result, the Wolverines are left with a wide-open battle for one of its most important positions. Running an offense that relies heavily on run-pass options, Michigan coaches understand that without a viable threat on the ground, the passing game won’t find the success its projected to achieve.
But Harbaugh expressed optimism talking about his three major candidates, starting with sophomore Christian Turner — he appeared in three games last season but struggled to stay healthy until this summer.
“Everything is stay healthy (with Turner),” Harbaugh said. “You know he’s had some bad luck, he’s had some real bad luck with the broken bone in his hand, and then an ankle injury and then a hamstring in the spring.
“But at each juncture, it’s always been, ‘We’re about to play Christian. Christian’s about to go in. He’s looked great in practice. Here we go,’ and then either bad luck or bad timing. But he’s looking good right now.”
Harbaugh was also effusive for freshman Zach Charbonnet. Though he missed spring workouts, he’s impressed his teammates and coaches with his acclimation to college-level training.
“He’s been termed a lot like Ben Mason,” Harbaugh said. “Strength coaches are saying that he’s a stalker, that he stalks them. He’s in the weight room all the time, living in there. Khaleke Hudson mentioned to me that of all the guys he’s been most impressed with, it’s been Zach Charbonnet.”
However, the most experienced player that is going to receive a bulk of the snaps alongside Turner and Charbonnet is senior Tru Wilson. He made an appearance in every game last season, turning 62 attempts into 364 yards for a whopping 5.9 yards per carry. Wilson’s biggest contributions came down the stretch when Higdon needed a breather and Evans struggled, eventually receiving equivalent playing time to the latter.
And though Harbaugh doesn’t plan on it, if worse comes to worst, he’ll be prepared.
“I’ve also talked about maybe Khaleke Hudson who was a high school running back,” Harbaugh said as the media laughed. “I don’t think it’ll get to that because I think we’re in pretty good shape at the running back position but always a possibility.”