Christian Turner is back.
After opting out in August on the same day the Big Ten postponed the football season, the junior running back is back with the team and practicing.
“Christian’s added a great attitude,” running backs coach and special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh said Wednesday. “He’s excited to be playing football and be around his team.”
Turner, who played in eight games and got 44 carries last year, adds a fifth option to a running backs room that figures to operate by committee. Standing in Turner’s way, fifth-year senior Chris Evans, sophomore Zach Charbonnet, junior Hassan Haskins and freshman Blake Corum will likely assume the majority of work. Harbaugh named Evans and Corum as the two more explosive of that group, with Charbonnet and Haskins as physical workhorse-type backs. Evans will also likely get work on pass-catching downs.
That dynamic will make it tough for Turner to break in, but in a shortened season with no bye weeks and a three-week sit out time for any player who tests positive for COVID-19, there’s no such thing as too much depth.
“The nature of rosters this year, you need to be deep,” Harbaugh said. “… Nobody can write themselves off as being too far down the depth chart.”
Nordin, Moody competing at kicker
As in 2019, the Wolverines haven’t named a starter at kicker and the battle is between Quinn Nordin and Jake Moody. Last year, the two essentially split work with Jim Harbaugh coming up with an intricate set of rules to try and ensure equality.
Though there’s been more time to evaluate the two ahead of the season’s Oct. 24 start, Jay Harbaugh said they were still letting the competition play out, but indicated that Nordin might be ahead at this point.
“Quinn certainly, we love the way that he finished last year, we love the way he’s been practicing,” Harbaugh said. “That’s a position like all the other ones, you’re gonna put the guy out there that gives us the best chance to win. More than likely, history would say that’d be Quinn.”
After missing his first three field goal attempts in 2019, Nordin finished out the year by making 10 straight, including a 57-yarder in the Citrus Bowl against Alabama. By that point, Nordin was doing most of the field-goal kicking with Moody taking the extra points.
No starting punter named
Despite fifth-year senior Will Hart having gotten second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2019, Harbaugh didn’t name him when asked about the competition at punter on Wednesday. Hart is competing with senior Brad Robbins, who missed all of 2018 and most of 2019 with an injury.
Robbins took four punts in last year’s Ohio State game, his first action since the 2018 Outback Bowl, and averaged 42.8 yards per punt. Hart averaged 44.2 per punt in 51 tries last year, and returned to handling full time duties in the Citrus Bowl.
Jackson returning kicks, Bell returning punts
Sophomore receiver Giles Jackson was Michigan’s primary kick returner last year, so it’s no surprise he’s back in the role now. Jackson, who returned the opening kick for a touchdown in a win over Maryland, is known for his explosive playmaking and averaged 25.9 yards per return last year.
On punts, the Wolverines are losing Donovan Peoples-Jones, who had handled returns for much of the last three years, albeit often in erratic fashion. Jay Harbaugh said that junior receiver Ronnie Bell — who returned eight punts and averaged more yardage than Peoples-Jones in 2019 — is, “probably the guy right now,” in terms of replacing him.
Harbaugh also named Corum and freshman defensive back Eammon Dennis as potential punt returners.