UM running-backs coach Jay Harbaugh met the media this week and talked about Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — As far as Michigan running-backs coach Jay Harbaugh is concerned, he is enjoying an embarrassment of riches in terms of his position group.
Leading the way are Karan Higdon, who was just shy of 1,000 yards last season, and Chris Evans.
“Chris and Karan are both starting running backs,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “It’s a 1-1 punch. And not many teams have that.
"They're a great duo. In terms of the best thing about both of them, is just the consistency day in and day out. They both bring it in terms of meetings, in terms of the lifts and practice. Their actions are truly in line with the goals that they have for themselves, the goals that we have as a team.
"That consistency of an approach is pretty special and all the other guys feed off that."
Higdon is entering his final season with plenty of goals. While in Chicago recently for the Big Ten media days, Higdon, who finished with 994 rushing yards last season, said had he made it to 1,000, he was seriously considering a jump to the NFL. He said he has added about 15 pounds in the offseason and now weighs 205 on his 5-foot-10 frame. Higdon considers himself one of the strongest players on the team.
“Knowing what I feel with 15 pounds now, I definitely wish I would have had this last year,” Higdon said in Chicago.
Evans, meanwhile, knew improving in pass protection had to be a priority during the spring and offseason and also added bulk under the direction of new strength coach Ben Herbert. He is 5-11, 216 pounds with an additional 10 pounds since the spring. Evans rushed for 685 yards last season.
Earlier in the summer, Evans said at Jourdan Lewis’ camp that he is part of a 1-2 punch with Higdon. Higdon said they are formidable duo but gave himself the edge.
“Of course I look at myself as the No. 1 back, but that’s (Evans) my brother and he’s a great player and he’s going to do his job, too,” Higdon said. “Putting us both on that pedestal, at the end of the day, regardless who is starting the game and who is finishing, we’re both going to leave it on the field and do damage. However it happens, it happens.
Michigan running-backs coach Jay Harbaugh met the media this week and talked about how strength coach Ben Herbert has helped the running backs and entire team. Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News
“A lot of guys see it as 1A, 1B, however you want to see it. At the end of the day, whoever is in the game is going to dominate regardless if it’s me or it’s Chris.
"That’s how I look at it.”
Harbaugh has a similar evaluation his top two backs, hence the 1-1 punch reference. He has seen them both take enormous steps since the spring and not just in terms of what Herbert has helped them achieve physically.
“It’s exciting every single time those guys touch it,” Harbaugh said. “It's fun to watch the things that they do. And the difference between last year and this year, just the different type of cuts they can make, even being a little bit bigger is pretty impressive.
“That's one thing that definitely stood out to me, is across the board these guys are carrying more weight and more muscle and they look even faster, even the skill guys, the big guys. It looks like an explosive team, and there’s more mass on them.”
As far as Higdon’s potential flirtation with the NFL after the bowl game last season, Harbaugh said he never had any conversation with him about that option.
"None. Which probably seems unbelievable, but Karan is really a guy of strong convictions and he knows what he wants,” Harbaugh said. “He knew he wanted to come back. Even before that, during the season last year, he didn't have any interest in discussing it, any interest in exploring it.
"He was really focused on the task at hand and felt strongly that if had entertained that or thought through scenarios and talked through them with other people that it might distract from what we were trying to do.”
Higdon is entering his final season and has plenty of goals, mostly team-oriented he said, but among them is reaching the 1,000-yard plateau. Harbaugh said Higdon’s level of motivation is no different than before — it’s always high.
“That’s just who he is,” Harbaugh said. “You’re definitely getting a really highly motivated guy. I think the only difference is, being a senior presence and a leader that other guys look to more, maybe there’s a little bit more vocal aspect to it.”
There was no consistency in pass protection from the running backs last season and that was a focal point this spring. The addition of offensive-line coach Ed Warinner also has helped the running backs in pass pro.
“Both have improved working in conjunction with the O-line to really make sure our quarterbacks feel confident and can play fast and step into throws and not be concerned about their backside or internal pressure,” Harbaugh said. “Overall, we’ve seen a big jump forward for that group.”
Harbaugh will also use preseason camp to determine the No. 3 back, which could very well be sophomore O’Maury Samuels.
“Three spot is still a competition,” Harbaugh said. “You want to have a guy who’s really reliable that, God forbid something happens, you have another guy ready to roll who can do everything. You can have a protection guy. You’re looking for the next best all-around guy. O’Maury has taken a big step forward. We’re excited about him, because he’s improved in so many different areas and is playing as fast as he ever has.”