Jim Harbaugh happy with Michigan's running backs, despite question marks

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Tru Wilson (13) is part of a running back group that has impressed head coach Jim Harbaugh so far.

Ann Arbor — As Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh rattled off the offensive position groups and detailed the personnel, he finished without mentioning the running backs.

That was purely unintentional, because there’s plenty he likes about the backs as the Wolverines embark on spring practice. Harbaugh addressed the media Monday, a day after spring practice began. He spent much of the discussion being peppered with questions about first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and the up-tempo, less-huddle offense he is installing.

But the running backs will not be ignored.

Michigan must move on from Karan Higdon, the stalwart running back who carried the bulk of the run game the last two seasons.

The future of veteran Chris Evans, who was expected to be the leader in the running backs room this season, remains unclear. Evans is no longer part of the team because of academic issues, but Harbaugh on Monday did not rule out the possibility Evans can work his way back to the team. Higdon rushed for 1,178 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games last season, and Evans was the second-leading back with 423.

So what does that leave?

“I’m happy with our running backs,” Harbaugh said Monday.

He quickly pointed to redshirt freshman Christian Turner, who began to gain more attention and praise during bowl practices. He apparently has picked up where he left off. He played in three games last season and had 32 yards on seven carries in the Peach Bowl.

“Christian Turner has surged from bowl practices to the bowl game, and since then he is A-plus-plus in terms of how he’s going about his business,” Harbaugh said. “He’s really becoming a rising player, no question about it.”

And then there’s former walk-on Tru Wilson, who gained the appreciation of Michigan fans last season in large part because of his selfless approach to pass protection and hard running style. He has been working with strength coach Ben Herbert and dedicated himself to his training. Wilson rushed for 364 yards.

“Tru Wilson is better, quicker,” Harbaugh said. “He’s faster.”

The one to watch is freshman Zach Charbonnet, the highly touted back from southern California, but getting a fix on what he can add to the run game will be delayed. He is missing spring practice because of arthroscopic meniscus knee surgery. That was a pre-existing issue, so it came as no surprise to the Michigan staff. Still, Charbonnet is working out his upper body and doing what he can until the knee is healed.

To add depth to the running backs, there have been some personnel shifts. Lucas Andrighetto moved from safety to running back, and Hassan Haskins is now exclusively at running back.

“He already looks really good,” Harbaugh said of Haskins. “He went both ways last year. He’s going to be realty good at that position. Working through something that may need a scope when spring ball’s over. He looks pretty darn good.”

Ben VanSumeren is working at linebacker and tailback. Harbaugh said he has shown he can be a physical, hard running back, but added it’s too early to say if VanSumeren will play one position or both.

 “Excited about that,” Harbaugh said. “He’s really looked good at tailback.”


Twitter: @chengelis