RB Rotation - Thoughts on shortening bench?

Submitted by MinorRage on January 3rd, 2019 at 9:39 AM

I don't post often, but have been an active reader for years. While I do think Tru has some skills that are valuable, what do you all think about the rotation of backs? I've always felt that really good RB's need a little bit of a rhythm to get going. Saquon was a great example of this where he would have a few carries with nothing and then a 50 yd TD run.


I think it's a brutal position where you definitely need to rotate a couple of guys throughout the game, but any thoughts on whether Michigan should stick with their top 2 and run them?



January 3rd, 2019 at 9:42 AM ^

Higdon was that guy for us this year and going forward it will likely be Turner. You have to have 3 guys ready to play though because at least one of them is going to be developing.

I Like Burgers

January 3rd, 2019 at 9:50 AM ^

Could see the rotation being Turner/Charbonnet next season with Evans worked in as a third down back.  If Zach is anything at all like his film he should see a lot of touches next season.  RB is one of the easiest places to make an impact as a freshman, and Michigan doesn't really have anyone like him on the roster.


January 3rd, 2019 at 2:09 PM ^

Evans actually looked slower this season than last.

Evans running style is like a "south-paw" boxer (or "tricky" style for my Mario Tennis 64 inclined). He does the Le"veon Bell thing, were he is actually running sub-100%, just waiting for the blocks and lanes to develop, and his dead leg is usually good enough to shake at least one tackler.

Honestly, even with Higdon, our last between the tackles runner was De'Veon Smith (who was crucial for Harbaugh's offense). Also, going back through the game-film, Higdon was hit multiple times behind the LOS, in what should have been a TFL, and he trucked the tackle, and got the needed yardage for the 1st-downs which kept drives alive (to me, Higdon is still the MVP of the offense, which would have been even more lethargic due to the Offensive-Line lapsing at key moments).

Evans high-school tape had him hitting homerun after homerun. And he even had a fair amount of homeruns as a freshman/sophomore.

If anything, Evans should be playing at a much lighter weight to keep his speed.

The Fan in Fargo

January 3rd, 2019 at 4:40 PM ^

I agree man. Higdon was the MVP. If he could've got going early on in the shoe, who knows how that game would've went. Evans just isn't physically tough like Higdon. He'll never get the tough yards against a good defense. We all know he is a guy that is better used in space or outside the tackles. Going up against 4 lineman and 3 backers isn't his strength. It's probably a safe bet that young Turner isn't going to be Higdonesque in year two after little experience. Man if that Charbonnet can come in and be like an A-Train right away, I'll sport a mohawk the whole year. 


January 3rd, 2019 at 12:26 PM ^

Evans should be James White. As in, he's technically a RB but most of his damage is done by catching the ball.

Instead, we try to make him into Marshawn Lynch and he ends up looking like Derrick Green.

The last two coaching staffs have recruited multiple fast&shifty guys...then almost completely ignored them.

Norfleet was squandered for years, only returning kicks. If he got more than 10 receptions a year I missed it.

Grant Perry looked like a great upcoming WR in 2015. After Rudock left, he's spent years getting open on routes...and then entire games where he didn't get targeted once.

I only remember one Eddie McDoom catch: a slant. I also remember a couple drops. But damned if the coaches gave him a second chance once "designated jet sweep guy" was scouted. But they sure as hell tried that jet sweep 50 more times.

Chris Evans lit the world on fire as freshman, and has spent the last couple years smashing into linebackers for 2 yards.

I'm sure there are more


January 3rd, 2019 at 5:43 PM ^

I agree with you that running Evans through the tackles is not smart.  It does not play to his strength AT ALL.  As you suggest, his best usage is as a James White or even Tarik Cohen RB.  That said, to say that Evans "lit the world on fire" as a freshman is a massive exaggeration.  He was definitely an exciting player who flashed a ton of potential, but when I hear "lit the world on fire" I think of Denard during September and part of October during his Soph and Junior seasons.  I think of Braylon's last season.  

With respect to Norfleet and McDoom, I think that this blog, and probably a portion of the fanbase, gets overly-excited about fast dudes.  Probably because our team has been terminally boring for ages.  But, it takes a lot more to be a D1 FB player than being a really fast guy.  There is a ton of technique, learning the playbook, ability to absorb a hit from much bigger guys, etc.  Not remotely saying that Evans, Norfleet or McDoom couldn't do all of those things, but we just don't know.  If all it took were being fast, we could just recruit a bunch of track stars.  


January 3rd, 2019 at 9:45 AM ^

Higdon had more carries than the rest of the RB/FB on the roster combined. The staff will give the lions share of carries to a RB if they’re clearly better than everyone else. If Turner, Wilson, Evans or Charbonnet prove themselves better than the others, than they will get the majority of carries. 

I Like Burgers

January 3rd, 2019 at 9:47 AM ^

How much shorter do you want it to be?  This is the breakdown of carries last season:

Higdon: 224, 1178 yds, 5.3 ypc, 10 TDs

Evans: 74, 403, 5.4 ypc, 4 TDs

Wilson: 59, 355, 6.0 ypc, 1 TD

Shea: 66, 268, 4.1ypc, 2 TDs

Mason: 31, 80, 2.6ypc, 7 TDs


That's pretty normal.  There's basically no difference between Tru and Evans when it comes to the run game, so no good argument for giving one more carries than the other.  If anything, Tru should have gotten more.  He had a long of 28 yards on the season while Evans had a long of 61.  On a per carry basis Tru was a whole hell of a lot more effective.

Only real argument would be to take away some of Mason's carries, but the dude was only used in short yardage and got a TD 1 out of every 4 times he touched the ball.  So tough to complain about that.


Gentleman Squirrels

January 3rd, 2019 at 9:53 AM ^

In that split, I'd like to see Evans less (because I think he's a better pass catcher/space runner than between the tackles back) and more Shea runs. I think we see a Turner/Charbonnet rotation until one clearly emerges as the better option and probably more Tru because he presumably he will be the best blocking back. Mason in goal line runs is fine, though he needs tuning as well since defenses have started to key in on him being just that and have managed to stop 3rd and 1s and 4th and 1s.

I Like Burgers

January 3rd, 2019 at 10:07 AM ^

I think that's probably pretty likely.  A lot less carries for Evans next season, but hopefully an uptick in receptions.  Although he was already 5th on the team in catches last season with 17 (one behind Perry), so I'm not really sure how much more of an uptick there can be when your top WRs on the team are only getting around 35 catches on the season.


January 3rd, 2019 at 10:22 AM ^

I think that Shea is a really effective runner, and that running him does open up stuff for the RB and WR (makes the defense "defend all 11 men"), but my concern is that every time he carries, there is a risk of injury.  Obviously, that is true of every player, but losing a QB to injury can be devastating for a season (see 2017).  With that as a concern, I would like to see run only marginally more than he did this year, and only to a very limited degree, if at all, against teams that we can beat easily.  Save most of his runs for ND, MSU, OSU, PSU and any other game that is unexpectedly close.  

As for the rest of the RB, my hope is that either Turner or Charbonnet takes hold of the position early on and get the same number of carries that Higdon had this year, with the other getting most of the remaining carries.  Not a knock on our other RB but I think that there are some people on this blog that seriously overestimate Evans' ability.  He is certainly not a power back, but since he gained weight, he looks way less quick - kind of "just a guy."  I actually like Tru's running style, but I do think that there are some limitations, and if we are going to compete with the best of the best, we need top athletes at all positions.  

As for Mason, over the second half of the season, the FB runs were the least effective that they have been since Harbaugh arrived.  Not sure if its Mason, teams keying in on the play, scheme, injury, but that was a big part of our offense that needs to be fixed. 


January 3rd, 2019 at 5:08 PM ^

I understand this point, and I kind of agree, but let me ask you:  Do you want to run Shea 10-15 times against Middle Tennessee, Army, Rutgers or Illinois?  Seems like we can beat those teams (Army probably less than the others) without running Shea once, so why subject him to the pounding.  Those are games where you go vanilla, try to impose your will early and get out without injuries.  Side note, one of my issues with Harbaugh is that sometimes he leaves key contributors in too late in blowouts.  

There are other games next year - Iowa, Maryland and perhaps even Sparty and Indiana in which we should, again, have a good chance of winning by being somewhat vanilla.  Unless any of those turns into a game, again, I might run Shea 3-5 times to get some game reps, but I don't see any need to subject him to additional pounding. 

But, where I suspect that we will agree, is that against ND, PSU, Wisco and certainly OSU, I would want to see a healthy dose of whatever works, even if it means running Shea 10 times each game.  

I don't think that we disagree that running Shea is a good thing.  I just don't want to see it too much against cupcake and semi-cupcake teams.

BTB grad

January 3rd, 2019 at 9:47 AM ^

Agree with the comments above. My main qualm with the staff in regards to the RBs is their stubborn refusal to utilize Evans in space more. "Nope, we gotta run Evans between the tackles into a stacked box. Gotta build that callus"


January 3rd, 2019 at 9:54 AM ^

They did something similar with Ty Isaac. Isaac was a very good pass catcher - so much so that some analysts were talking about him playing receiver coming out of high school - and then he only caught 7 passes during his 3 years at Michigan. (Meanwhile, he caught 4 passes at USC as a freshman in a lot less playing time.)

Eddie McDoom is another guy. He had 16 carries as a freshman and averaged 10 yards per carry, but then they barely used him as a sophomore.


January 3rd, 2019 at 12:31 PM ^

I don't think it means he will be great, but it should be used as an option. Running up the middle doesn't necessarily work great all the time, either. I think it's important to have the ability within your offense to attack all areas of the field with various personnel. You can throw quick screens to wide receivers, but you should also be able to throw them to running backs. You can throw over the middle to tight ends, but you should also have running backs and wide receivers working the middle of the field.

I Like Burgers

January 3rd, 2019 at 10:16 AM ^

You know, as of like 15min ago -- before I looked up the stats -- I was firmly in the they don't get Evans the ball in space more camp.  But had 17 catches on the season.  That doesn't sound like a lot, but when you compare that to DPJ (39 catches), Nico (33), Gentry (30), and Perry (18)...that's good for 5th most on the team, and missed three games due to injury.  how many more is he really suppose to get?

On top of that, his catches started going up at the same time Perry's started going down.  Half of his catches on the season came in the last four games of the regular season.  Perry had two catches in that stretch.  So it seems like they were trying to get him the ball in space more.


January 3rd, 2019 at 11:09 AM ^

" That doesn't sound like a lot, but when you compare that to DPJ (39 catches), Nico (33), Gentry (30), and Perry (18)...that's good for 5th most on the team, and missed three games due to injury.  how many more is he really suppose to get? "

Well... I'd say basically EVERY player on that list was severely under targeted...

I Like Burgers

January 3rd, 2019 at 11:47 AM ^

Its not really that everyone was undertargeted, its more that they have a 60-40 run pass split on plays to begin with and then play so damn slow (124th in the country I believe was the number Brian used the other day) that they have less possessions than most teams, and therefore less targets and carries to go around.

So even if they went to more of a 50-50 split, you're probably only looking at around a dozen or so extra catches on the season for the top guys.


January 3rd, 2019 at 12:08 PM ^



Everyone was undertargeted BECAUSE they have a 60-40 run pass split on plays to begin with and then play so damn slow.


Move that split to 55-45 run, and speed the pace up from almost last to around median... and you'll see a lot more catches from the top5.


Throw in less pointless subs, and those catches accumulate for the top 5 also.

I Like Burgers

January 3rd, 2019 at 2:56 PM ^

We're kind of saying the same thing.  Point is, just moving from a 60-40 split to a 55-45 split or something like that isn't really going to make a whole lot more targets for the WRs or people like Evans.

Michigan had 310 pass attempts to 519 rush attempts this season.  That's actually a 37-63 split, and works out to 23 pass attempts a game on average.  If you bumped that up to a 45-55 split, its only going to generate 5 extra pass attempts a game, 3 of which will likely be caught.

To really make the difference everyone wants to see, they are going to need to play faster to generate more offensive chances.  Its just not as simple as throw it to the WRs more.  They play so slow, targeting a WR or Evans 5 extra times a game really isn't going to change much of anything.


January 3rd, 2019 at 10:29 AM ^

If we are after body blows, Chris is not the guy.  Line Mason up at tailback and pound those LBs out of the I-formation.  Mason should be the featured power-game mauler and save Chris for read option stuff.  I don't think Turner or Zach are likely to be physically ready to be the power back for JH's man-ball sets.  Unleash Mason for that role.


January 3rd, 2019 at 2:43 PM ^

Yes, Chris does not deliver body blows.  He gets to the back of the line and does that stutter step thing if there isn't a big hole.  

Higdon hit the hole and if a guy was partially blocked, he seemed to be able to blow past him on occasion. 

Mason could be used more than just short yardage. Agreed. 


January 3rd, 2019 at 9:48 AM ^

If you have a guy like Saquon who's 220 lbs. and can take a little bit of a beating, then sure. Michigan did that more with De'Veon Smith, who dominated carries in 2015 and 2016.

We don't always have guys like that. Higdon and Evans were smaller backs. Tru Wilson is probably the sturdiest guy on the roster, but he's also the least dynamic.


January 3rd, 2019 at 12:19 PM ^

This is an interesting comparison.  Barkley was listed at 233 lbs at the Combine.  Evans is listed at 216 lbs on the roster.  But, our rosters tend to be a little generous.  If you look at Evans he absolutely has the structure with a big lower body.  The same can be said of Saquon only bigger.  Saquon also has an upper body to match.  But, Saquon is incredibly powerful and strong.  There is a video of him squatting 495 lbs for 7 reps (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iEKCqQ3ylk) and cleaning 405 lbs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGWWjkwMWn8).  Both of those I believe were from his sophomore year so he's probably gotten even stronger since then.  But, there is more his skill than just muscular size.  Deveon Smith was also very strong and well developed.  But, Saquon also has the quick twitch explosive power in addition to strength and agility to go with it.  So, long story short is Saquon is well built, strong, powerful, and also has great agility which is what makes him an elite athlete.  The other two are just good college players, but not elite athletes like Saquon.



January 3rd, 2019 at 12:49 PM ^

While true, it doesn't really matter what they looked like in HS.  Frank Clark didn't look like a DE coming out of HS.  Josh Allen put on 45 lbs at Kentucky.  Those are extreme examples, but guys develop at different rates and some respond better to weight training & nutrition than others.  There is no "normal" way to assume how much different a guy will look 2-6 years after his junior year of HS.  It only really matters what their size was at the time of their various roles in college.


January 3rd, 2019 at 12:05 PM ^

I can see that.  Charbonnet is already listed at 215-220 depending on the source.  I'd guess he puts on another 5-10 lbs by next fall.  I doubt he starts day one unless he's enrolling early because he just won't have enough time to earn the job yet, but my hunch is he does by mid season.  If he does earn the starting job I think he's big enough to carry the load and based on his film he's significantly better than anyone we have on the roster.