ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Are we really doing this?
In the aftermath of Ronnie Bell’s season-ending injury, most of the college football community simply feels bad for a senior who worked his way from Missouri State basketball commit to the best wide receiver on the Michigan football team.
Bell is a team captain and, by all accounts, one of the hardest workers on the team. His injury is a massive blow to the Wolverines, but an even bigger disappointment for him individually. Those 12 fall Saturdays are the reward for hundreds of hours of offseason training, and for Bell to be done after just one half is a tough break.
It’s an unfortunate injury -- simple as that. Yet it’s no surprise that during Monday’s press conference, some questions seemed to suggest Jim Harbaugh was at fault for putting Bell at punt returner.
Give me a break.
Harbaugh handled the questioning well, pointing to some of the best players in Michigan football history -- Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard, etc. -- returning punts and kicks in addition to their primary positions on offense and/or defense.
Bell was the best punt returner on the roster. That’s why he was out there. Harbaugh’s job is to put his team in the best position to succeed, and the notion that punt returns are somehow beneath the team’s best offensive player is absurd.
Field position has always been a point of emphasis for Harbaugh’s teams, and Saturday was a perfect example. On the very play in which he suffered the injury, Bell returned a punt 31 yards, flipping the field and setting up a Michigan touchdown.
Harbaugh has earned plenty of criticism for his tenure at Michigan. Everyone knows he hasn’t beaten Ohio State or won the Big Ten. But blaming him for Bell’s injury is a real eye-roller.
Nobody questioned Harbaugh when Jabrill Peppers, a Heisman Trophy finalist, returned punts for Michigan in 2016. Or when Donovan Peoples-Jones, a starting wide receiver for three seasons, did so from 2017-2019.
Bell was one of Michigan’s best playmakers, and returning punts was another way for Harbaugh to get the ball in his hands. That made the Michigan football team better, which is quite literally Harbaugh’s job description.
It’s OK to be bummed out about Bell’s season being cut short -- everyone is. But injuries happen in football, and that doesn’t mean someone has to be blamed.