With spring practice scheduled to begin on March 24, Michigan football is just about ready to get started on the road to the 2017 campaign. The Michigan Football writing staff has been putting together a series previewing each positional group before the start of spring, and today’s focus will be on the running backs.
The running game is a staple of Michigan football, and Jim Harbaugh‘s mentality is no different. While Michigan doesn’t have an every-down back, they do have a platoon of more than capable runners engineering the core of the Wolverines’ offense. This doesn’t necessarily just mean the running back position. After all, fullback Khalid Hill was one of the leading scorers on the ground for the Wolverines a year ago.
For the past two seasons, the focus on offense has more or less been the running attack behind De’Veon Smith and company. With Smith leaving the group, there are plenty of snaps left to go around amongst a group that will look to improve from being role-players a year ago. Running backs Chris Evans, Karan Higdon, and Ty Isaac will look to fill in the rugged shoes of Smith, but none really match the skill-set of Michigan’s departing starter.
Running back: Chris Evans (So) is the man to beat for the job, just based on the amount of love that the coaching staff has for him. Harbaugh was glowing about Evans coming out of training camp last season, and that translated to plenty of touches for the true freshman in his first campaign. He’ll face stiff competition for Kareem Walker, Karan Higdon, and Ty Isaac for the bulk of the carries, and I could definitely see Walker or Higdon especially challenging Evans. But Walker lacks familiarity with the system after sitting out his freshman season, and Higdon’s frame doesn’t make him the ideal every-down back. This job is Evans’ to lose this spring, but don’t fret. Every single back will have their time in the sun with the committee system in place.
Fullback: Khalid Hill (RS Sr), otherwise known as the Touchdown Maker, will return for one more season with Michigan football, and he should reprise his role next season. Granted, fellow redshirt senior Henry Poggi could also stand to take a few reps, but Hill’s role on the goal line last year makes him the first name that comes to mind for the starting job. The fullback position is very much situational, so it’s also easy to see Poggi and Hill splitting snaps depending on field position, down, and distance.
Key reserves: Karan Higdon, Ty Isaac, Kareem Walker, Kingston Davis, Henry Poggi, Drake Johnson, O’Maury Samuels
Early enrollees: None
Four-star recruit O’Maury Samuels is one of the dark horse candidates for playing time, but he won’t join the team until summer practices. Until we can see him in the Maize and Blue, there will be difficulty placing his role on the team.
Junior Karan Higdon may be smaller than the average running back, but he is deceptively strong and quick. He has the ability to slip into cracks that not many other runners can fit in, and he could very easily challenge for a job.
Fifth-year Ty Isaac was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school, but it has yet to translate on the field yet. If Isaac wants to live up to his potential, this would be the year. He is the veteran presence in the running back room, and he has a leadership role waiting for him if he can step up to the plate.
Kingston Davis impressed in his limited time last season, and he will have a larger frame that Harbaugh loves in his running backs. If history is anything to go off of, the larger framed Davis and Isaac could have a step up on the rest of the field.
The real dark horse in the entire field is Kareem Walker. He enters his first season with the Wolverines as an active member, and it will be interesting to see if Walker will come in with a chip on his shoulder. Walker isn’t the largest running back, but he will be the most versatile when he plays his best. If 190-pound Chris Evans isn’t the starter, my betting money is on Walker.
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