Michigan's Drevno knows value of keeping RBs fresh

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Drake Johnson

Ann Arbor — Michigan’s four-man running back rotation might add another in senior Drake Johnson, who has a good shot at finally getting on the field Saturday against Illinois.

Offensive coordinator Tim Drevno likes having so many options in the run game because it gives the Wolverines a change-up while also allowing the backs to stay fresh.

Third-ranked Michigan faces Illinois on Saturday at Michigan Stadium, and Johnson, who hasn’t played because of a muscle strain before the start of the season, has been practicing and apparently is ready to go.

He will join an established rotation that includes freshman Chris Evans, who leads the team with 400 yards and has scored three touchdowns. Senior De’Veon Smith has 336 yards and two touchdowns, Ty Isaac has 297 yards and four touchdowns and Karan Higdon has 253 yards and five touchdowns.

Drevno, who was on Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s staff at the 49ers, said he learned there is something to be said for helping the backs preserve their bodies for the future, while not curtailing their production at this level.

“We love just kind of spreading it around to different guys,” Drevno said Wednesday before practice. “It helps them for the National Football League.

“I really believe in the NFL, you don’t want to take a guy who has a bunch of carries. You want a guy who’s a little bit fresher, because they want to be able to play at a high, productive level. I think that helps them. You don’t want to hand off to a guy who has a bunch of carries and taken all those hits. You want to save a little bit of energy and life in them as a ball carrier.”

Drevno said he came to this conclusion while coaching in the NFL and understanding that the individuals calling the shots are looking for.

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“You have a better understanding when you sit in those draft meetings and you understand what GMs and scouts are looking for,” Drevno said. “You hear them talk, and you see how important it is at that level — and, you have a better awareness and appreciation about the health of somebody and making sure they have a bright future and a good career.”

Getting their kicks

If Michigan had attempted a field goal, Kenny Allen would have been called upon.

But as the Wolverines prepare for Illinois, the competition is among walk-on Ryan Tice, freshman Quinn Nordin and Allen, who also handles punting and kickoffs.

“We’re always going to compete and challenge those guys, and they know they have to perform at a high level,” said Chris Partridge, who along with Jay Harbaugh coaches special teams. “We’re still competing. They’re on equal reps and will keep working those equal reps throughout the next few weeks.”

Nothing replicates kicking in a game setting, but since Michigan missed three field goals against Wisconsin on Oct. 1 — Allen was 0-for-2 and Tice missed his lone attempt — there hasn’t been an opportunity.

“I’d like to get a try there in a game to have that pressure,” Partridge said. “We’ve just got to do our best in practice and be ready for the game. There’s nothing like game reps.”

Partridge said it’s difficult for a kicker to handle all of the kicking. And he and assistant special teams coach Jay Harbaugh have said this season it isn’t ideal.

“You don’t see it often. You don’t see someone do it excellent often,” Partridge said. “It’s something he’s learning. Even though he’s a fifth-year senior, he’s never done that before. He’s learning just like any other player has to learn and how to adjust his swing to what type of kick he’s doing.

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“That’s the learning curve we’re hitting. We’re not down on Kenny. He needs to continue to improve and realize how to do all three in a game setting where he’s switching his swings up.”

Nordin, who had been injured earlier in the season, traveled to Rutgers.

“He’s kicking well,” Partridge said. “He looks good. Excited about him.”

Young LB Bush Jr. ready to make move

Michigan’s younger players received a considerable amount of work last week while the veterans took some time off. Partridge said that at least one freshman is on the verge of seeing more playing time at linebacker.

“I think Devin Bush Jr. is ready to go,” Partridge said. “He’s doing a phenomenal job for us on special teams. He’s ready to step in there for sure.”


Twitter.com: @chengelis