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With familiar face, freshman joining top duo, Michigan football could use 4 running backs in 2020

Chris Evan returns, Blake Corum arrives as Michigan remains loaded at running back

Michigan running back Zach Charbonnet (24) runs for a 35-yard gain as Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman (11) pursues in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Michigan running back Zach Charbonnet (24) runs for a 35-yard gain as Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman (11) pursues in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football had a crowded running back room last season, and this year doesn’t figure to be any different as a familiar face and a talented freshman join Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet.

Four different players received more than 40 carries for Michigan last season: the aforementioned duo of Haskins and Charbonnet, along with Tru Wilson and Christian Turner.

Neither Wilson nor Turner will be factors this season, as the former transferred to Northern Colorado and the latter has opted out of the 2020 campaign. Michigan’s running back depth didn’t take a hit, though. If anything, the position got stronger.

Haskins vs. Charbonnet

Everybody wants to know who will be No. 1 on the depth chart, but for Michigan, that’s not important at this position. No matter who’s officially listed as the starter, both Haskins and Charbonnet will get their touches.

Early last season, Charbonnet was the clear leader, as evidenced by his 33 carries in the double overtime win over Army. Haskins didn’t get a single touch that game, and he totaled just 14 carries the first five weeks.

But the work load proved too much for Charbonnet, who was held to just seven carries the two weeks after Army.

Zach Charbonnet #24 of the Michigan Wolverines is tackled by Jacob Covington #57 of the Army Black Knights, right, during the first half at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Zach Charbonnet #24 of the Michigan Wolverines is tackled by Jacob Covington #57 of the Army Black Knights, right, during the first half at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis was looking for the right mix, and he found it after the first month of the season.

Charbonnet received 101 carries in Michigan’s last nine games, including the Citrus Bowl. In that same span, Haskins carried the ball 109 times.

It was almost an even split, and that’s because both players were effective.

Charbonnet finished the season at 4.9 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns. Haskins averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored four times.

Charbonnet might have more home run potential, but Haskins is a punishing runner and could just as easily have scored double digit touchdowns a year ago.

Hassan Haskins #25 of the Michigan Wolverines breaks a tackle and eventually runs for a touchdown during the first half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 12, 2019 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Hassan Haskins #25 of the Michigan Wolverines breaks a tackle and eventually runs for a touchdown during the first half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 12, 2019 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The point is both players more than earned their spot atop the depth chart heading into 2020, and as long as they’re healthy, they’ll share the primary duties. Not only does that allow Michigan to give defenses a different look, it will minimize wear and tear at a demanding position.

Chris Evans

Off-the-field issues forced Chris Evans to miss the 2019 season, but he stuck it out and worked his way back onto the team for one final go-around.

Evans has quietly been very productive when called upon throughout his college career, averaging 5.7 yards per carry on more than 300 runs. He’s also a threat in the receiving game -- 40 catches for 392 yards in three seasons -- and that could help him get on the field more often at a crowded position.

Chris Evans runs the ball against Western Michigan. (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Chris Evans runs the ball against Western Michigan. (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

How is Evans feeling after a year off? Will he get enough touches to make a difference? These are important questions heading into 2020, and it’s hard to know the answers since access to the team has been so limited.

But Evans wouldn’t have taken his punishment year and stayed at Michigan if he didn’t have some kind of role in the offense, and it’ll be fascinating to see how Gattis uses him. On paper, Evans is the type of versatile, elusive player who should thrive in this scheme.

Blake Corum

A true freshman typically wouldn’t be much of a factor in such a deep running back room, but don’t be surprised if Blake Corum forces his way onto the field.

Corum fits the mold of Michigan’s offensive recruiting strategy under Gattis: speed. He ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at The Opening Regional and can make defenders miss in space.

On top of that, at 5-foot-8, Corum is a bit of a wrecking ball. He can finish runs and break through arm tackles. If there are any additional reps to go around behind Charbonnet, Haskins and Evans, Corum is the favorite to take them.

The former four-star prospect was Maryland’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019, and he had scholarship offers from Ohio State, Georgia, LSU, USC and dozens of other schools.

He has the pedigree and the ability. The only question is whether there will be enough reps for him to make a difference in 2020.

Best guess

When Michigan’s offense takes the field Oct. 24 in Minnesota, the only certainty at running back is that either Charbonnet or Haskins will start in the backfield. But don’t read too much into the first play -- both will get their opportunities.

Gattis will likely go into the 2020 season with a plan similar to how he finished 2019. But if either Haskins or Charbonnet outperforms the other early in the season, the usage gap could widen.

Evans should be the clear No. 3 in terms of touches. There’s no doubt Gattis will find ways to use him. He racked up more than 2,000 scrimmage yards and 16 touchdowns in Michigan’s old offense -- just imagine the possibilities in an innovative scheme.

Corum needs to capitalize on the next four weeks to carve himself a role as a true freshman. Michigan doesn’t necessarily need him to be in the mix, but if he proves worthy, 2019 showed Gattis has no problem reaching deep into his running back depth chart.

Quarterback, wide receiver and even the offensive line are major questions for Michigan heading into the season. But running back is one spot where the Wolverines should be rock solid.


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