Mike Hart explains running back rotation philosophy

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — You can excuse Michigan football fans if they’re a little leery when it comes to managing a loaded running backs room.

In 2020, on paper, the Wolverines had one of the best running backs groups anywhere, with Hassan Haskins, Zach Charbonnet, Chris Evans and Blake Corum all splitting carries. It was an embarrassment of riches and one that the maize and blue seemingly couldn’t handle.

Charbonnet sat for long stretches and he ultimately transferred to UCLA this offseason. Haskins eventually won the starting job, but between he, Corum and Evans, none of the three had typical RB numbers in terms of carries.

Now their former position coach, Jay Harbaugh, is back to coaching tight ends, where he once had a Mackey Award winner in Jake Butt. So with Mike Hart coming aboard as the team’s new running backs coach, how does he approach the running backs rotation?

“Play them how I see fit at the end of the day,” Hart said. “You have to let a guy get a little comfortable in the game. I think there’s always two first or second down backs, there’s a third down back, there’s a short-yardage back — it can be the same guy, right? If a guy is better at something — if Blake is better on third down than Hassan, then it would be smart to play Blake, right? If it’s third down, if it’s third and long. If Hassan’s a better short-yardage runner on third-and-1, then put Hassan in the game. I think that whoever earns those jobs, whoever is better at them, then that’s who’s gonna be in the game in those situations, from that standpoint.”

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As far as Hart sees it, he’s planning to put his players in the best position to succeed, and sometimes that means waiting to let them grow into the right position. Just because one player isn’t a short-yardage back now doesn’t mean he can’t develop into one, for instance.

With three obvious players this year in Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, managing a trio should be a bit easier than what we saw last year with the quartet.

“At my previous job, there was a guy who didn’t play on third down at all in his first two years and then last year, he played every third down because he got better at it,” Hart said. “It really just depends on where they are in their career. Do they know pass pro? Can they pick up blitzes? Can they do those things in certain situations? Are they better at third-and-1? There might be a guy who never plays but who goes in at third-and-1 that’s gonna be our running back. And everyone knows we’re running. That’s one of those things, whoever earns those jobs, that’s who’s gonna be in those situations — when it’s clear as day. Obviously, you can’t just say, ‘Oh, he’s in the game,’ and it’s gonna be a pass, right? If it’s third-and-12, (put in) the third-and-12 back?”

Hart will have his official prodigal return, now as the team’s running backs coach, on Sept. 4 when Michigan hosts Western Michigan for the season opener at noon EDT.

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