Michigan Football: Phil Steele expects underclassmen to lead Wolverines

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /
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Michigan Football
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Expect a running back by committee approach until a workhorse-type runner emerges.

Sophomore Zach Charbonnet set an Ann Arbor team record for touchdowns as a freshman with 11 tallies. He seems to have a nose for the endzone and looks durable enough to carry the load towards the 1,000-yard mark after falling a little short in 2019.

Hassan Haskins, another sophomore, split carries with Charbonnet last season and showed promise while averaging over five yards-per-carry. By the season’s end, he looked to be the best back on the team after switching over from defense. He, too, will get plenty of opportunities for the Wolverines.

Chris Evans will look to regain his edge after spending more than a year away from the field. During that time, he’s only managed to compete in a few bowl practices and unfortunately wasn’t able to get up to speed this past spring because of COVID-19 cancellations. Still, he’s shown flashes of brilliance in past seasons and will slowly work his way into the mix during the early season as he gets his legs back under him.

"“Michigan’s group of running backs this season should be the best head coach Jim Harbaugh has had during his time at U-M,” says Austin Fox of Rivals, “not only due to the talent the group possesses at the top with Charbonnet and Haskins but also the depth and experience it has.”"

Improved trenches will be the strength of the Michigan football defense.

Last season, the unit often seemed to be outmatched in terms of size and strength. The results were ugly. Often, teams were able to run the ball late in games with authority against the Wolverines through the middle. Still, the Michigan defense under Don Brown is expected to be top-notch as always.

Last season’s weakness will prove to be this year’s strength. Both Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson are projected by Steele to be the best set of defensive ends in the Big Ten. Paye is considered by Steele to be one of the most NFL-ready prospects on the team.

Defensive tackle Chris Hinton is one player to keep an eye on. Coming out of high school, this “beast” was rated as a five-star recruit. He received only one start as a freshman but will be expected to make an impact with his IQ and technique now that the depth of the position group has thinned out.

Linebacker Michael Barrett is expected to be the starter at the “viper” position on defense. He’s raw. Both athletic and versatile, he will be expected to aid the pass-rush with his rumored sub-4.5 (40-yard dash) speed. Expect Barrett to follow in the footsteps of Michigan do-it-all athletes of late like Khalike Hudson and Jabrill Peppers.