Jay Harbaugh, running backs coach, talks running backs

Wednesday Presser 10-10-18: Jay Harbaugh Comment Count

Ethan Sears October 11th, 2018 at 2:32 AM

Things Discussed

  • Jay Harbaugh's new baby
  • Karan Higdon is a workhorse now
  • Tru Wilson, great at blocking
  • Jonathan Taylor, for some reason
  • Michigan's confidence

[After THE JUMP: We go from babies to pass blocking and back again]

Have you gotten any sleep?


“Yeah, I got — had enough. My wife is amazing. She has been trying to let me sleep as much as possible.”


How much better has the pass blocking gotten this year among the running backs?


“Overall, the protection’s a lot better. I think the numbers show it, the tape shows it, and it’s gonna keep improving. So, we’re excited about that. Shea (Patterson) has been — he’s so special back there, he’s able to get us out of bad situations when we do have a slip-up or occasional gaffe in protection. So he’s been special in that regard, where he’ll try to make it so he never even has to do it.”


Jay, we’ve seen, especially against Maryland, Tru (Wilson) was kinda throwing himself around a little bit with some blocks. What have you noticed most about Tru Wilson’s blocking progress?


“It’s getting better. He asserted himself in the spring as one of our best guys, in the fall, in the camp again. He’s just continuing to improve his technique. He works hard at it. He’s a really tough kid. He’s not scared of anybody. He’s doing a better job playing with leverage and unloading on some people. It’s fun to see all the hard work kinda be on display in a way that everybody notices. Cause that’s kind of an unheralded thing. So it’s nice for him to have that come to fruition.”


He get a football for taking on two guys and looking for a third?


“I wish he woulda got a chance to get a third, I don’t know. I think he went — pretty much went viral if you consider that aspect of that. So it was cool for him. I was happy for him.”


Chris (Evans) warmed up, didn’t play. Is he ready to play this weekend?


“He’s ready to play. We’re expecting him to, and we’ll see what happens Saturday.”


Jay, with all the things that Ben (Mason) can do, is he as unique a guy as you guys have on the team? Catch the ball, block, run, there’s so many things, you guys can do with him. Can you speak to the uniqueness of what he brings to you guys?


“Yeah, we have a bunch of guys that are kinda like that, in the sense that they’re not just one-tool guys. So it is — you want all your players to have that versatility. It’s a beautiful thing when you’re really good at multiple things, and he’s exceptional as a situational ball-carrier. He’s very good as a blocker. And it’s a great thing. And he’s very good on special teams in the role that he has, so, it’s pretty nice when you have a guy who excels at more than one thing.”


His natural ability as a runner is something people don’t see much. (Stephen) Spanellis was in here, said watch his high school tape, he does run quite a bit. What do you guys see in practice, his agility, straight-line speed, whatever, that maybe people (don’t know)?


“Yeah, he’s unusually fast. He’s like, he really gets going quickly. He’s like a train, just runaway train, bearing down the track. I think that’s the thing that surprises people, and just the physics of it. He’s hard to tackle because he weighs a lot. It isn’t that complicated. It’s really fun to watch. And it’s the kinda thing that everyone else appreciates it because they see how hard he works, how hard he lifts, what he’s like in meetings. So, everybody kinda rallies behind him because it’s a very genuine love for Michigan and love for football.”


You mentioned one — Tru, I remember Ben last year telling us he’s not afraid of anything. Tru, you said he’s not afraid of anything, that helps him block. Is that something you can teach, or just come in any play?


“I think that that’s kinda something you have. Not necessarily by birth, I think the way that you’re raised, there’s a little bit of that. Your contact courage, how willing you are to kind of put your face in there and hit somebody, or get hit. You typically don’t see guys improve that much at it, but both those guys, they got some natural toughness to them, they work hard at it. I think Tru is scared — he has a snake — I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this, but he’s actually scared of his own snake. … I think the snake has frightened him a few times, so I don’t know that he’s totally impervious to scary things.”


Do you have any specific examples of maybe Tru in practice where you were just looking at him and being like, ‘Yeah, that’s a tough kid?’


“Just pass-pro. Throughout spring and fall, playing against the best defense in America and the best linebackers in America, there were numerous times where he steps up and makes a great pickup. … You’re like, ‘Ok, wow.’ This guy’s really worked hard at this and it’s paying off.”


Did you guys put that clip of him taking out the blitzing linebacker and then pancaking a guy in some sort of case of, ‘Here’s how to do this,’ or single that out?


“No, but it’s obviously exemplary. And obviously the actual block itself was great, but the hustle is something that we really appreciate. Having that be the standard is really what we’re going for. And then you see it from the other backs. A lot of times it does unnoticed, but guys carrying out fakes with great effort and intensity and trying to draw the defense’s eyes to them. And there’s other ways, too, but that obviously is kinda the gold standard for effort, is just assuming that you pop up on your feet and you’re gonna be useful to the play. You’re not gonna wait and see and look around and see if you’re necessary or go into spectator mode. That reaction is exactly what you’re looking for.”


Karan (Higdon) has rushed the ball 55 times in the last two games. What’s it like to see him become a workhorse?


“It’s fun to see. His conditioning is such that he doesn’t really wane over the course of games, which is pretty cool. And he’s great about expressing where his body’s at if he needs one, or if his — any pain at all, if he just needs a quick breather. So he’s great about communicating in that regard. It’s just fun to watch him do his thing and really help us move the ball.”


I know you’re busy coaching your guys, but when you look at Jonathan Taylor —


“I haven’t looked at that.”


You haven’t seen nothing at all with Jonathan?


“I mean, I don’t watch tape of their offense, so, he seems like he’s pretty good. I’m not trying to be (rude).”


He’s a good running back


“I’d be terribly uninformed to comment on their team’s running back. Their running backs coach can probably do a better job than me, or one of our defensive players.”


I guess I was looking at it from the angle of, he’s a good running back, he does things well, is there anything that you would take that he does and translate it to your guys?


“I’m with it, but still, I don’t know. I see what you’re trying to get at. I’m not informed enough to comment on that.”


Jay, is it kinda tough getting everybody carries? You’ve got like five, six guys that have proven they can carry the ball, maybe only 30, 25 carries to work with per game. How much of a challenge is that?


“It — not so much a challenge as it is, it’s fun. You have a guy that you trust that’s running the ball great, and you wanna let him really do his thing. And then there’s situations where, ‘Hey, this guy runs this play better,’ or, ‘This guy is great in protection and he knows his protection really well. … Let’s get Chris in to run some of these types of runs that he excels at.’ It’s more fun than anything, finding ways to get these players displaying their God-given abilities and all the skills that they worked so hard to develop. It’s cool and you like to be able to move the ball and have a lot of carries so everyone does get more. But you just kinda go through the flow of the game and see what happens.”


How has Jared (Wangler) evolved since you acquired him at the fullback position?


“Acquired, it sounds like I traded for him or something. He’s been phenomenal. He’s gotten so much better and takes every day really seriously in terms of the mental side. He trains hard, he’s very tough, he’s willing ot endure big collisions. It was nice to see him score last week and go crazy, and have the stadium go nuts. It’s fun to see guys have success and have their hard work pay off. He’s a guy who’s done everything the right way and it’s showed up big time.”


Mike (Zordich) was here just now saying he’s sensing a different feeling among the players’ confidence. Are you seeing that as well — he said across the board, not just on the defensive side?


“Mike, uh.”




“Oh yeah. We always call him Z. I’ve never called him Mike in my entire life. He was saying that we’re more confident.”


Yeah, I asked him specifically about Devin Bush saying their mantra is, you gotta come in and beat us. And he said that that’s sort of, seeing a swagger.


“I think that we’re a confident team right now, and I think that our guys are mature enough that there’s — it’s confidence, not arrogance. And they understand that the — that you have to prepare to win the game, you have to win the game on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etcetera. And you get a whole team approaching it like that, that’s a really healthy confidence. So I would say that I see the same thing from the offense in terms of our prep.”


How much of that stems from Shea (Patterson) and his presence? Z was crediting Shea


“Z, there you go. Felt good, huh?”


No, it didn’t. Felt weird.


“Yeah, obviously playing quarterback and leading the offense, he’s gonna be able to really impact the emotions of the rest of the offense. And he’s so positive, he’s on top of the rest of his stuff and he’s really focused throughout practice, that everybody definitely feeds off it. So there’s a — there’s the preparation part there and then there’s that kinda gut trust that, ‘This guy can make some stuff happen.’ And our team never feels like we’re out of it or never feels like we’re gonna lose or anything. But having a guy like that, it kinda amplifies it. You really feel like there’s nothing that can stop us, because he’s so dangerous, he’s able to make things happen.”


If I say Jim, you’ll know it’s Harbaugh?




Ok, Jim was saying — he was talking about being a grandfather for the first time. What was that like, first time you saw your son?


“It was incredible. I can’t imagine that there would be another thing that would be better than that. It was totally surreal and amazing.”


What was the moment like? What did Jim do?


“He met him afterwards, but it was just awesome. I don’t know. I was a little bit overwhelmed. I’m not really certain how it was for him, but it was really, really special.”


Have you gone for him for advice about parenting, or maybe not?


“Not specifically. Part of his style of leadership is to give advice, as he sees fit. So he’s given me advice on everything and I’m sure that will be one of them. Around here, it’s pretty well-accepted advice. He’s usually right.”


How much, I was asking Jim about, if you had any plans, he said it would be a better question for you. Do you have any plans about any type of paternity leave?


“There was. I did. I came in, I think at noon after the baby was born at like 3 am. So that was it.”


(Everybody laughs)


Nine-hour paternity leave?


“Somewhere around there, yeah.”


How was it?


“It was pretty special. Got all my affairs in order.”


That’s what it’s for, right?


“Yeah, it was outstanding.”


Wondering, kind of with your schedule now, being a dad, that’s obviously —


“I’m new at this. So being a dad, I don’t know how well-qualified to answer questions about being a dad. Five days.”


Do you see it altering your schedule any more than normal?




Then what’s expected, I guess


“I don’t know. I guess we’ll see. Nothing’s more important to me than being a good dad and being a good husband, so, being a good coach is the next thing on the list. Just trying to have all those thins be in harmony with each other and just do your best at it, right?


Your wife understands your a football coach right now, right?


“Yeah, you’re always everything. You don’t ever go out of one of those roles.”



October 11th, 2018 at 6:43 PM ^

I started reading this, stopped, came back an hour later, forgot it was Jay and totally thought it was Jim with the whole Jonathan Taylor back and forth.