The world has changed since Mike Hart racked up 1,455 yards on the ground as a freshman for Michigan football in 2004.
Phones don’t have buttons anymore. A team’s top rusher is no longer penciled in for 25 touches a game. The importance of pass-catching out of the backfield encourages toggling between halfbacks with different skills.
So what does that mean for Michigan coaches, who seemingly fell in love with Hassan Haskins at the end of the 2020 season, gave Blake Corum a bigger role —and then landed prized local recruit Donovan Edwards?
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Fans are clamoring for Edwards, but Corum and Haskins aren’t doing anything to lose their spots.
“At the end of the day if (Edwards) plays, that means he’s ready to play so he needs to go out there and do what he has to do. … You’re not gonna get through a Big Ten season with two running backs,” Hart said Thursday outside Schembechler Hall.” So is Donovan gonna be on the field at some point? Yeah, I mean, it’s probably gonna happen.
“I can’t tell you when, I can’t tell you how much. But I think that everyone knows that, you know, as long as these guys show up, do the work and they earn it, then we don’t care who’s on the field. It can be (junior RB) Danny Hughes, it could be Leon (Franklin, junior RB), it could be anybody.”
Ultimately, as Hart said in his first meeting with reporters Thursday, how much Edwards sees the field will be up to offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.
While Gattis and head coach Jim Harbaugh have each raved about Edwards’ readiness and role in 2021, Hart was a bit more muted. He called Edwards “explosive,” flashing some of the big-play ability people saw in high school — but he’s not ready to crown him quite yet.
“When he switches gears, you can tell, and he doesn’t look out of place. I think what a lot of freshmen when they come in, getting used to the speed on defense and making people miss, I think that it takes a little,” Hart said, “a little transition normally. And it’s still a transition for him.
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“He’s not even almost where he needs to be. But you can see that he has the skill set to be really, really special one day, if he gets better, he’s not there yet. But if he continues to grow, continue to take coaching, which he does, he has a chance to be a really good player one day.”
Harbaugh said at Big Ten media days that Edwards would play from “day one” and, two weeks later, Gattis touted Edwards’ early impact and said it was “no secret” he’d see early playing time. But Thursday, Hart focused a bit more on Haskins and Corum.
“He’s strong… (Haskins is) a guy that if you see him in shorts, it’s at a camp, you’re not as impressed but when the pads get one he’s a strong runner, breaks a lot of tackles,” Hart said.
Haskins rushed for a team-high 375 yards and six touchdowns on 61 carries in the six-game 2020 season. Corum rushed for 77 yards and two scores on 26 carries but added 73 yards on five catches (14.6 yards per catch).
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“(Corum) works a lot hard than I worked,” Hart joked when asked if he and Corum are similar players. “Blake’s a lot faster than me, a lot quicker than me. If I was that fast, I’d probably still be playing in the NFL, but, no, he’s a great kid.
“I think just his mentality, just the way he does things, the way he approaches the game, I think, is really similar to the way I did.”
Hart said Edwards and fellow early enrollee Tavierre Dunlap are adjusting nicely to the college game. Coming to campus in the spring gave them a leg up on learning the offense, but there’s still plenty of nuance to learn, he said.
Ron Bellamy, Michigan’s new safeties coach — and Edwards’ high school coach at West Bloomfield — was less afraid to praise Edwards in his first meeting with the media since accepting a job on Harbaugh’s staff.
“He’s Donovan. … He’s what I’ve seen since third grade. You know, he’s a kid that’s not gonna let anyone outwork him,” Bellamy said. “He’s a kid that takes his craft very seriously. And now he’s gonna be a great addition to the offense. He’s attacking every day and he’s getting better and better. I get a chance to see him and, you know, he poses problems for defenses.”
Just how much of an opportunity Edwards will get on Saturdays remains to be seen, though. But it doesn’t sound like Bellamy has any doubt about his former star, at least physically.
“(When) Donovan was in the 10th grade he benched 225 (pounds) 12 times, so physically, dude’s ready,” Bellamy said.
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