Harbaugh gives Jabrill Peppers 'A', not 'C-'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jabrill Peppers

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has made it clear the more running backs the better.

The third-ranked Wolverines feature a four-tailback rotation — De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon and freshman Chris Evans — that has accounted for 1,286 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. Evans leads with 400 yards on 48 attempts (8.3 yards per carry), while Higdon has five touchdowns.

As Harbaugh said on the “Jamie and Stoney” show on 97.1 (WXYT-FM) Thursday morning, he does not want to overuse one back and cause wear and tear to his body.

“I’ve never been a fan of just one running back in college football taking 700 or 800 snaps their entire college career,” Harbaugh told the show. “It takes a lot of the football life out of a running back when they’re in college. Takes some tread off the tire. Don’t want to do that to college backs. I just have a philosophy with that.

“Our running backs have really thrived in this system. It’s good for the team and it’s good for the individual’s career not to have 600, 700, 800 carries throughout their college career. I think if you did a study on that, I don’t have a study in front of me, but I just have the feeling, the experience that wouldn’t be best for their entire pro career.”

Harbaugh seemed to tone down expectations for the return of running back Drake Johnson, who has not played after suffering a muscle strain before the start of the season. Earlier in the week it sounded as though Johnson might be ready to play on Saturday against Illinois at Michigan Stadium.

Johnson has endured two ACL injuries during his Michigan career, and last spring was stretching when he was run over by a forklift in the indoor track building.

“We’re still seeing whether he’s going to be at full speed,” Harbaugh said. “We’re still evaluating that. He’s been a trooper all the way. Unbelievable young man. Everybody’s pulling hard for him.”

After Michigan’s 78-0 rout of Rutgers nearly two weeks ago, Harbaugh said Jabrill Peppers should win the Heisman Trophy. But this week, Peppers volunteered a grade for his play during the first half of the season — a C-minus.

“Way too hard on himself, no doubt about it,” Harbaugh said. “Talked with Jabrill about that. He is a high achiever. He has set very high standards for our team and for himself, there’s no question about it. He was way too tough on himself. I think we have been seeing that (he’s playing at an A level). I would be giving him an A.”