Everything Mike Hart said about Michigan football running backs in Week 2

·16 min read

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan football managed 234 yards in the season opener, a good number to be sure, but Mike Hart would like to see more.

The Wolverines running backs coach and all-time rushing leader met with the media on Wednesday to discuss the state of his position group, and noted that there were a couple of runs that were a broken tackle away from going for 40 yards. But there was still a lot to like.

Now that it’s a new-look room without Hassan Haskins, Hart shared what he’s seen from his current players, why he’s not looking to replace Haskins, what he’s seen from freshman C.J. Stokes and more.

Here’s everything he had to say.

Why was C.J. Stokes able to make an early impact?

I think that him and Tavi have had a good fall camp obviously. I think everyone knew this offseason, we had to find a guy that can get carries as a No. 3. And he runs hard. I think he has great burst. So, excited about him, still excited about Tavi. I think the bulk of battling throughout these first couple of weeks of who’s gonna get more touches, who’s gonna get more carries as that No. 3 guy.

What did he see on tape from Stokes in high school?

I always tell you guys this — at the end of the day, I’m not — you guys know this, the recruiting guys know that I don’t recruit stars, if that makes sense. I recruit good players or try to recruit good players. And he’s a kid that was under-recruited, who had great film, is fast, had track times, ran the ball hard, ran through people, could show he can catch the ball. And then at the end of the day, it’s just who he is as a person.

And you talk about a kid who has a strong mind, who’s confident in himself who’s not afraid of competition. A kid that is gonna have success in the long run, he wants to be great. Like, you have to have kids that want to be great. Some kids like the recruiter, he wasn’t a kid that you had to call every day. He’s a kid that knew who he was, you know, and just that self-motivation. And those are the kids — the Blake Corums, the Donovan Edwards — those are kids who show up to work every day, you don’t have to worry about, Are going to go to class, we’re going to take care of those things. And those things are more important to me as a coach than kids were ranked five-stars because they go to a big school, that may not be that good.

So that’s kind of just my recruiting philosophy personally, that if you recruit a high-maintenance kid, when they get here, they’re going to be high maintenance. Not to say that some of them aren’t great, but there’s a lot of kids out there who are really, really good players and he’s one of them. And that’s just — we want kids who want to be here and that love ball and you don’t have to force to come work out, force to go to class. There’s enough kids out there do that.

Working with Fred Jackson

Freddie J. — and I love him to death. He’s obviously coached a lot of great running backs here. He’s coached the greatest running backs here for a long time, for what, 22, 23 years? And so just the knowledge that he has — obviously, he’s not coaching. He’s an analyst, he’s helping out. But the conversations he helps me with, things he sees are great, that I can transfer to the players. Once we talk about a game film, preparation, he’s doing a great job for us. It’s like working with my grandpa I was telling him. But he’s awesome. We love him. Everybody loves him. And we’re happy he’s here.

How does he react to that sentiment?

He laughs. I don’t know if he’s too happy. But I still say it.

Do the RBs split time with the WRs?

They’re with me, for the most part. Sometimes we’ll let Donovan go to one-on-ones and stuff like that, let Blake go to one-on-ones. But normally they’re with me. We watch the film. Coach Bellamy does help actually, I was telling Coach Bellamy earlier that I’ve got to get Dono corrected on some routes so Bellamy will help with that. But they’re with me most of the time.

How does the offense change with J.J. McCarthy in?

I think everyone knows he’s more of a running threat. At the end of the day, I don’t think anything else changes but that. He’s athletic. He can do the things that Cade — like Cade doesn’t run as well. You guys saw that last year, you see this year, I think that’s on film. You can run a lot more quarterback-read stuff with him. But besides that, we don’t change a lot of what we’re doing. We’re not bringing it two different game plans of how we’re going to do things. So, he’s also a kid, you don’t want to get hit all the time. So we’re just safe, but don’t change much. He’s just he runs the ball a little bit better. I think everybody knows that.

His assessment of the run game against Colorado State

I think as a team they loaded the box, I mean, that’s gonna happen, gotta break tackles. I mean, I told them the No. 1 thing is the O-line did a great job and I think that we had some situations where if we broke the tackle it would have been a 40-yard run. It was probably three or four those situations in the game, whether it’s using your off-arm, which is breaking the tackle. But I mean, 13 carries, 12 carries I mean — we averaged over five yards a carry, so to me — all three of them did average over five yards a carry.

I think they played well, they played hard, pass pro was great, and they caught the ball out of the backfield. I just think that you have to break that one tackle to get to 100 when you have 12 or 13 carries, but I thought they both played really well. And then C.J. and Tavi came in there, they did a good job as well.

Did he encourage Blake to add weight in the offseason?

I thought you were gonna ask about him jumping. I’m like, ‘You’re not Hassan Haskins!’ No, no, I think that he’s a kid that he’s always around that 210 area. He would just lose it during camp. So I mean, I’ve obviously only been with him for two years, but it’s just that he’s maintained it this offseason. So, happy for him. I think he knows where he has to be, I think when you look at the 210, 212, 208, what’s the difference? I think maintaining a weight is what’s important, not going up and down. And so that’s more or less what, with Abigail, Coach Herb that we encourage him and Donovan to do. We can’t come in at 210 one day and 203 on Thursday, from Monday to Thursday. So it was just maintaining that weight. And they both have done a great job and bought in and we have a great staff that helps out that kind of stuff.

Is he looking to replace Hassan Haskins' style of running?

No, I think every back is different. Hassan Haskins was a special player. On third-and-1 there’s not many guys like him, I don’t care how long you coach for, that can do what he did on third-and-1. I think that as good coaches we take advantage of whatever strengths our players have, so there’s not a replacement there’s not a person I’m looking for as he’s the next Hassan. Like me personally, I’m gonna make Blake (Corum), the best Blake (Corum) he can be, Donovan Edwards the best Donovan Edwards he can be, C.J. Stokes the best C.J. Stokes he can be — so on and so on. That’s how you have success in the long run. Just use guys’ strength to their advantage. And so, no, I’m not looking for the next Hassan Haskins. I’m not looking for a 230-pound guy — now to me, it’s what are the strengths? Let’s figure it out from there.

What makes a good short-yardage back?

That’s a great question. He doesn’t have to be big to be a great short-yardage back. I mean, that’s not the truth at all. I thought I was pretty good short-yardage back and I was 205-pounds or 200-pounds. To me, it just comes down to contact balance. You know what I mean? Do you keep your legs moving? How’s your pad level? In there, you have to be able to make people miss in short areas. So to me, I don’t look at weight, I don’t look at those things. And that’s when it was, ‘Oh, recruit a big back.’ A big back can be 195-pounds, it’s just how you run, what your mentality is at the end of the day. Just like a scatback can be 225-pounds, if they catch the ball, and can make people — run a great route. So at the end of the day, you have to just be great with your contact balance to be a really good short-yardage runner. And, again, there’s not many Hassan Haskinses out there who can do what he did last year. But I’m not gonna, we’re not concerned about that.

Is there a difference between someone who can pick up short yardage and someone you don't want to expose to contact?

Oh, of course, of course. Just like I don’t want guys that can’t run go routes, to go run go routes. It doesn’t mean you’re not good. Just means that guys have different strengths. Right? I don’t care how much you weigh, I don’t care what your sizes are, at the end of the day, like I’m gonna use you the way I see fit, the way we can win games. Whether you’re 190 or 225, whatever you’re better at you’re going to do. Or I’m a bad coach, in my opinion, if I don’t do it.

What did he see from Kalel Mullings at running back in fall camp?

Kalel’s a very good player. You might see him running back at some point this year, I don’t know. But he’s a strong runner. He’s bigger, but he’s also fast. He’s a great athlete. So again, as coaches, you try to mix and move guys, see who can do what best and that’s how we’ll use them. You might see  him play at running back this year. Hopefully — trying to get him back. No — he’s really good though. But again, I think that we are strong in our room, we don’t have to have him. But he’s definitely a special player.

What did he say to Corum after his hurdle?

I said you jumped and you got one extra yard! I always tell the guys, they love to jump, they get ‘oohs’ from the crowd, right? Unless it’s like Hassan’s against Nebraska last year, when he got 20-30 yards after that. So I said to the guys, one-on-one, just stiff arm them, run through them. So — it looked good. It was cool.

Corum and Edwards' personalities and leadership

I think they’re both great leaders. I mean, again, we have two guys, they’re obviously two of our best players on the team, but they’re also two of our hardest workers. And so the respect that they get from their teammates, the love of the game they have, it’s fun for me to come to work every day, to be honest with you. Their teammates to me, I mean, they’re just fun to be around. And they just, they’re infectious, like you said — that’s the best way to say it. You want guys like those two on your team, you’re gonna win games.

Does he recruit the way he does because of how he was recruited?

No, I think that you learn — I started coaching the MAC. And I couldn’t recruit five-stars, right? There’s good players, there’s good kids. And so my big thing is, I mean, who I am as a person, you want guys like that, in my opinion, because then you have to work with me. And there’s kids, again, they don’t fit, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I just mean it takes a special kid to come to Michigan is what I tell every Michigan running back. There’s  110,000, the good, the bad, the Twitter, the Instagram, all these things. And you have to be special, you have to be mentally strong. And it’s just those things I believe in that make a great running back, that your personality has to be different to play running back here. Everyone can’t do it.

Those are the kids, you see them come in and transfer in a year because they’re just not mentally strong. We’re going to have good backs here. It’s going to be competition every year on the field. I mean, look at Donovan Edwards last year, right? Five-star kid, biggest recruit at running back in Michigan in a long, long time. He didn’t play that much. So if that kid was mentally weak, he would’ve transferred. And so we need kids who believe in who they are, who know how good they are, and want to stay here. And you know how that saying goes, right? And so like, that’s just who I am, that’s what Lloyd taught me, that’s what Bo taught everybody, right? It’s who we are. And I believe that to be great, you have to want to be great. You have to know you’re great, you have to want to compete.

Where is C.J. Stokes in his pass blocking?

Like any freshman. You come in it’s the number one thing any freshman recruit has to work on, is pass pro. Can they do it? Absolutely. Has he done it? Absolutely. You know what I mean? So we’ll move on and I mean, is he gonna be in on third-and-12 when I know they’re gonna bring zero blitz? Probably not. But he could be. No different than Donovan last year. No different than Blake before that. No different than any freshmen I’ve ever coached. Tavi was the same way last year. That’s the biggest jump to college football, is pass protection for any freshmen.

Did he think of going to the NFL?

Like, you never say never no to anything, right? But end of the day, I coach for a reason. I coach because coaches like Lloyd changed my life, like Fred Jackson changed my life. And I love working with 18 to 22-23 year olds. You can impact them, you can change them to become better fathers, better husbands, better sons. That’s why I coach. I don’t coach to be in the NFL, I coach because I like changing these kids’ lives, because my life would be a whole different track if I didn’t play football, if I didn’t have the male figures in my life that I did. And that’s why I love college football.

Again, I’d never say never, right? Anyone knows, I could be fired next year. You never know. Right? But, at the end of the day, the reason I coach is because I like changing young men’s lives. And I think that I can have a bigger impact in this age than I can in other ages.

How has he responded to the other changes in CFB?

NIL, stuff like that? I mean, it is what it is. I mean, shoot, I wish I would’ve gotten NIL money when I was playing. A lot of 20 jerseys out there. You know what I mean?

So, I think they deserve it. It’s good. But again that, to me, is more of the impact I can have now though, right? Because it’s kind of like, these kids have money. Like, how do you handle your money? What do you do with your money? What do you do with these things? And, to me, that’s what coaching is like, it’s not just As, Bs and Cs, playing Hawaii and playing all these —  right? How can I change their life? How can I help them change their life? How can I impact them off the field? And that’s what I love about college football. So, to me, it’s what I’ve done anyways, it just, it’s more clear now. You gotta pay taxes at the end of the year. This money is not free, you know, and those types of things. So that’s honestly why I do it and that’s what I enjoy.

Does he ever think about how much money he would have made as a player?

Yeah, you know, I’m trying to get M-Den to pay me back a little bit! No!

I’m here, standing here right now because I came here. So times change, things change. But the reason why kids can have what they have now is because I went to the school and the rules were the rules then, the rules are rules now, to me, just make the most of it.

Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire