ANN ARBOR, Mich. — One thing Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh often says is that players make their biggest jump in development from Week One to Week Two. But, the same can often be said going from year one to year two.
At running back, that’s an enticing notion, considering that 2019 was Hassan Haskins’ first full year at the position, as he split time there and with the linebackers in 2018, while Zach Charbonnet was a true freshman working to get his feet underneath him.
Now both are wily veterans, having both gotten starts the past season, readying themselves to build upon solid first-year campaigns. But how can they improve?
Running backs coach Jay Harbaugh shared a laundry list of where they can better along with how they’re best utilized on Friday, noting that if they can turn intermediate runs into more explosive, home run-types, then either or both could be formidable for opposing offenses in 2020.
“What I’m hoping for – I guess we can start with Hassan – he’s got a good long list, like everybody does – these are the focus points: I want to continue to have him expand what he can do without the ball in his hand,” Harbaugh said. “Become even more proficient. He was a pretty good pass protector but there are things that he will be able to bring us as a blocker in the sweep game, on the perimeter. Possibly as a lead blocker in terms of some of the two-back stuff. Kind of acting like doing some of the job that a fullback would sometimes do. He’s capable of all of that, so I think he’s gonna be able to take another step, going from just being decent at that to being really dominant. The other thing for him is continuing to open up his hips, improve his stride length and turn some of those 7-15 yard runs into really big ones. I think that everybody respects the way that he plays and loved watching him run last year. Hassan will be the first one to tell you, he wants to turn some of those runs into even bigger runs. So, find a way to make that extra hat miss and turn some of those medium runs into huge runs is gonna be a big difference for him.
“For Zach, it’s really not super different. We need to turn some of these medium, pretty good runs into explosive home run ones that send The Big House into an eruption. So both of those guys are kind of the same focus and I really believe that with the experience, the confidence, continuing to understand the system where the unblocked defenders are and just running with more confidence, they’re both gonna make a lot of improvements in that area.”
But how does one learn to make defenses miss and get those home run-type runs?
Harbaugh says a good portion of that comes from within, with it being determined by the players’ own hunger to be great.
The staff immediately worked to correct mistakes upon the culmination of 2019, and the tailbacks took said advice to heart. If they’re to take that big leap forward in 2020, it will be because they were driven to put in the work themselves, especially considering the current ‘new normal’ due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Overall, I think that probably has to do with the guy that you recruit, more so than stuff that we can do here,” Harbaugh said. “Because the guy’s gotta have the hunger for greatness and that really strong desire to improve. And those guys all have it.
“After the season when they come in and we talk about, ‘Hey, these are the 10 things that we really, really need to improve and maybe there’s 3-4 that are really the most important,’ those guys really grab onto that. I’ve seen guys that save it and take it and put it as the background on their phone. They’re just really driven, they’re really motivated to take that next step. I wouldn’t say that it’s anything that we need to push them from a motivation standpoint, because they really have that, and they just have that passion and it’s part of the reason that they’re here.
“Our role is really more of a guidance, like, ‘Okay, this is what we’re trying to do. You want to make this guy miss, you want to get more yardage out of this play or have more big plays. Here’s the steps that you can can take from a training standpoint to do it. Here’s a cut up of this NFL player you should watch. Here’s an example of this run. Here’s a type of quiz or assessment so you understand the way this play is being blocked.’ So our role is more of a guidance and technical guidance type of role when you have such motivated players.”
Regardless, the two aforementioned players won’t be able to rely on what they did a year ago. Not only does former RB Chris Evans return after a year off due to academic suspension, but Christian Turner appears to be healthy, and true freshman Blake Corum is expected to make an early impact in his first year in Ann Arbor.
Game-by-game score predictions for Michigan football in 2020