Michigan defends deployment of running backs; Zach Charbonnet 'good to go'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – From Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh to running backs coach Jay Harbaugh, the plan for freshman back Zach Charbonnet has been to lessen his workload coming off his big presence in the Army game the second game of the season.

After opening the season with eight carries for 90 yards and high praise for picking up blitzes against Middle Tennessee, Charbonnet then rushed 33 times for 100 yards. Two weeks later – Michigan was off the week before Wisconsin – Charbonnet had two carries for six yards as the Wolverines gained only 40 rushing yards in the 35-14 loss. But last week against Rutgers, six backs had carries in the 52-0 rout. Charbonnet had five for 22 yards.

Zach Charbonnet

Jim Harbaugh said this week he wants to limit not particularly his carries but the number of plays he’s in the game, and with Christian Turner picking up steam in the run game and Tru Wilson returning from a broken hand, they can more comfortably rotate backs.

“Zach’s good to go,” running backs coach Jay Harbaugh said Wednesday before practice. “We take pride in taking care of the guys. We wouldn’t start a player in a game who wasn’t totally healthy and ready to play at his best. You do your best to make sure the pace guys are playing at is sustainable to try to play 13, 14, 15 games in a season.”

There has been greater attention to Charbonnet and his diminishing carries in light of the fact he enrolled early in January and underwent a previously planned knee procedure that held him out of spring practice.

In the aftermath of the Army game, Jay Harbaugh said it was clear to everyone that Charbonnet was asked to do too much.

“It’s just kinda common sense,” Harbaugh said. “As a running back, you don’t want that, but there’s times in a game where you kinda can get in a situation where it’s a little bit unavoidable. You can look at guys’ careers at colleges and in the NFL, there’s outliers like that all over the place. It’s happened at Michigan in the past. It’s the kind of thing that can happen sometimes. It doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. It’s just, ‘Hey, that happened,’ and it’s maybe not the most ideal thing.”

Christian Turner

Being able to rotate backs in the Rutgers game has made Harbaugh more comfortable with playing others behind Charbonnet, but he is expected to have a bigger role Saturday against Iowa, which is ranked 10th nationally in run defense.

“Really, you want to make sure that the guys behind him are ready to play and ready to play well at a high level,” Harbaugh said. “If you have that in your room and it comes to life on that Saturday, the second or third or fourth guys are ready to rock and make the most of their opportunities, then you can avoid (playing the lead back that much).”

Harbaugh emphasized he won’t put players at risk.

“You do your very best as a coach to make sure you’re taking care of guys and you’ve got your antennae up for a guy being banged up,” Jay Harbaugh said. “We’re not going to put a guy in position to get hurt or make an injury worse. In the course of the game there’s no reason. This shouldn’t be happening.”

Jim Harbaugh said Monday he likes the idea of splitting plays “20, 20, 20” among the backs.

Charbonnet leads the team in rushing with 218 yards on 48 carries and has three touchdowns, and he has averaged 4.5 yards a carry. Turner, who led the team with 48 yards on 11 carries against Rutgers, is averaging 4.3 a carry.