Michigan has finished its spring football practices and has returned from Rome, leaving three months before the start of preseason camp. The biggest question facing the Wolverines entering spring ball: How do they handle the loss of 17 starters?
Those spring practices revealed that what Michigan lacks in experience can be made up with a high talent level that has coaches excited about the 2017 season.
Land of 10 is taking a look at various position groups during the offseason and the battles for playing time that will take place when August camp arrives. Today: Running backs.
Who’s the man?
A better question would be: “Who are the men?”
Maybe one dominant player emerges from this group, but at this point the biggest problem running backs coach Jay Harbaugh is going to have is figuring out how to divvy up snaps. Harbaugh, who is in his first year coaching the position after taking over when Tyrone Wheatley Sr. left to take the same job with the Jacksonville Jaguars, has plenty of viable candidates.
De’Veon Smith was last season’s leading rusher, but he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins. Sophomore Chris Evans, fifth-year senior Ty Isaac, junior Karan Higdon and redshirt freshman Kareem Walker are at the top of the position group.
“Guys are going to be put in a position where they’re good at,” Harbaugh said. “It might be a certain run for a certain type of guy, or a certain scheme for another guy, but, obviously, any coach would like a guy to emerge that he can trust.
“But in reality, I’d like every guy to emerge. I’d like to be thinking, ‘I want this guy to be in, but I really want to be playing these guys, too.’ You’d like to be able to touch your whole group. I never liked to think about running backs like that, assuming that two or three guys aren’t going to be good enough. I want everyone to be good. It’s pretty simple, but for some reason that’s never talked about.”
The team’s top returning rusher, Evans ran for 614 yards and 4 touchdowns last season, averaging 7.0 yards per carry. He also has the potential to be a receiving threat out of the backfield. He is the most elusive of the running backs.
Isaac rushed 74 times for 417 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, but at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, he has the look of a player who could handle 20-plus carries a game. On another team, he probably would, but not in this group.
Higdon took advantage of limited playing time last season, rushing for 425 yards and 6 touchdowns on 72 carries. That included a 13-carry, 108-yard, 2-TD performance in the 78-0 dismantling of Rutgers on the road.
He had a pair of touchdown runs in the spring game last month.
Higdon gives BLUE the lead with his second TD of the day.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) April 15, 2017
Academic issues kept Walker from practicing the first half of last season, but he’s gotten those rectified and impressed coaches during practices leading up to the Orange Bowl. Walker has carried that into the spring, and he is very much in the rotation mix.
There are two running backs in this year’s freshman class: O’Maury Samuels of Los Lunas, N.M., and Kurt Taylor Jr. of Covington, Ga. Both players will arrive on campus in June.
Conventional thinking says they probably will redshirt, but there is nothing conventional about Jim Harbaugh’s program. Nothing has been predetermined, so there is nothing keeping them off the field aside from the depth of the position.