What Mike Hart said about Michigan football’s running backs before Northwestern

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan football has returned off the bye week and that means that we’ve gotten the opportunity to speak to the coaches again this week. Which included a fan favorite in former Wolverines running back Mike Hart.

With the maize and blue having the top rushing attack in the Big Ten and the seventh-best run offense in the country through Week 7, there’s still a lot to like about what the tailbacks bring to the table. While Hart talked about Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, he also spoke at length about Donovan Edwards and Tavierre Dunlap and where they stand at the moment.

Here’s everything he had to say on Wednesday.

List

Ranking Big Ten quarterbacks by PFF passer grade through Week 7

Hassan Haskins' game vs. Nebraska and his pass protection

“Yeah, everybody saw his chip block. He does a great job. He’s physical, he had some short-yardage runs in that game. One of them, he got hit one yard behind the line of scrimmage — for about two-to-three. And the one, everyone talks about that he got, they just spotted it short. He’s a strong runner, downhill. He does a great job and that translates into pass protection. Him and Blake did a great job in pass pro in that game and are doing a great job this season.”

Does he coach the hurdle?

“No, I can’t jump! I actually do not coach the hurdle! I think it’s — I’ve never seen somebody land it, or they land it and get hit. So no, normally I don’t coach that, but it was a great run. I can’t believe he stayed on his feet!”

Does he tell Haskins not to do that?

“No! If it works, you can do what you want to do. As long as it works!”

What if it hadn't worked?

“It was a run over five yards, so he’s OK! Get more than five, it’s hard to yell at him! If they get less than five and then don’t do what they’re supposed to do, then I can coach them.”

What stats does he pay attention to when he evaluates players?

“I don’t look at it, you just see it. I think yards after contact is huge. Falling forward all the time. If it’s a huge hole, they should be able to get yards. But, for example, Hassan made that guy in the open field miss, that’s yards after contact, even though he didn’t get touched. Blake does the same thing in the open field a lot, too, where a guy may not touch him, but he makes a move on him. So those are all yards after contact, and that’s what great running backs do, they get the extra yards. If the linemen are blocking for five, they get eight, or they turn it into 20 or 30.

“That’s what you really look forward to — if a play’s blocked for four, and they get four, everybody should do that at this level. It’s those guys that get those hidden yards, as we call them, that are second-and-6, second-and-4, falling forward for two yards. That’s what you want to see and they’re doing a great job of it.”

How much of that is mental and how much of it is strength?

“I think that it’s both — it’s want to. You have to want to do it and not be scared of contact if you want to fall forward. It comes down to, No. 1, evaluating when bringing in good running backs that can break tackles and fall forward. I think that’s huge in the evaluation process. And then, No. 2, it translates from the weight room. You have to be strong to do those things. You have to have a good squat, good bench, all those kinds of things, on contact to fall forward.”

What's his message to Donovan Edwards as he waits his turn?

“Yeah, he’s a great kid. He’s happy, he’s excited on the field. He gets in when he gets in. I told you guys last time — I don’t know if I told you guys — but he’s just a positive kid. He knows his chance is coming. He prepares every day, he’s ready, he gets all the reps in practice. I have 100% confidence in Donovan Edwards to put him in the game when we need to put him in the game. Have to find spots to put him in the game. But Blake and Hassan are playing really well right now. He understands that, we talk about all that stuff. I think as long as you’re upfront and honest with young men, then they get it. They watch the same film we watch. If Donovan wasn’t playing and those guys were rushing for 10 yards a game, then he’d have a reason to be really mad. But they’re having a successful season at the moment.”

How are his hands?

“Oh, he has great hands. Yeah, he definitely has great hands. He could play receiver if he wanted to. Donovan’s a talented, talented kid.”

Having played in the game, how does one keep from looking forward to MSU?

“I think it’s just easy. If you don’t win this one, then the next one doesn’t matter, right? The next game is always the most important game. You talk about it, you’re working on them all week. It’s not like we’re doing game plan for Michigan State right now, you know? All they see is Northwestern, all we talk about is Northwestern, and I think they know it’s one game at a time. And if you look ahead, that’s when you get in trouble. I think we have a group of guys who know what they have to do, they know what they want to do, and next week will get here when it gets here. Like I said, if we don’t win this weekend, next weekend doesn’t matter.”

What Haskins and Corum do Su-Fr to keep their bodies fresh

“The good thing (is) neither of them are getting 40 carries a game, right? One’s normally in the 20 range, the other is normally a little less than 20, depending on how many times we run the ball that week. I think Sunday is obviously a big recovery day for them, same thing with Monday — we don’t practice on Mondays. They walk through the guys that have played a lot of snaps in the game. Coach Harbaugh does a great job of that. And then on Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s me maintaining the reps. How do you feel? Hassan’s an older guy, Blake’s a guy that takes care of his body better than anybody. Rep-wise, they get enough reps to be ready to play, but I’m not gonna over do it with any practice, and I think that comes down to management throughout the week.

“Up to this point, they’ve been healthy, they’ve been good. They haven’t missed a practice. And I think that using them both the way that we use them helps out.”

How does Corum take care of his body?

“He doesn’t eat junk food — I don’t know! Healthy stuff — I don’t know why he does it! No, um — obviously he’s a kid that knows what he’s eating every day, he knows how to hydrate every day. He’s on top of his body. For a 19-year old kid, 20-year old, it’s pretty impressive. He knows before the games, hydrate. During the week, his pregame routine, how he gets rolled out, how he stretches. He knows when one of his — his calf might be tight, he does extra work on his calf. He’s just really attuned to his body and what he needs to be ready to go.”

Was he (Hart) on the Cheetos diet as a player?

“Cheetos, Wendy’s — whatever was in the Union! I probably ate Wendy’s every day!”

Salad?

“No salad! Chicken sandwich, cheese and mayonnaise only! I don’t eat Wendy’s anymore, I can’t. Metabolism caught up with me.”

What does it mean to the coaches when the freshmen are practicing on their own after games?

“I mean, I think it’s crazy! No, it’s so impressive. I just think about when I was 18, when I got home at 1, 2 a.m., I just wanted to go home and go to sleep. We got practice tomorrow — we did stuff on Sunday when I was here. But I think honestly it just shows you what kind of young men they are and the drive they have and where they want to be. They see their future, they know how they want to get there, and they just try to get better every chance they can. So, you hear about it and you’re like, ‘They did what at 2 o’clock in the morning?’ And it’s just really, really impressive to have a group of guys that are that good that work that hard. Because they are a talented group of guys. They are gonna be really, really good one day. They know that’s the plan, that’s what you hope for. With their work ethic, they’re gonna be unstoppable.”

How Sherrone Moore has done with the offensive line

“Coach Moore’s done a great job. He’s a high-energy guy and those guys really love playing for him. He gets excited, before games, during games. They respect him so much. He coaches them hard but with so much love. I think that’s one thing — that’s what makes him such a great coach. They believe in him and they know that he believes in them, so they believe in him. Even when there’s a mistake they’ve made, he doesn’t rip butt, he doesn’t do anything like that. It’s, ‘OK, here’s what we have to do. Why did you do that?’ He’s just a guy that gets it, he played the position. He’s obviously a little bit younger as a coach. It’s just a different style of coaching that makes him a great coach, he listens to his guys. I saw the DBs were talking about it. He listens to his guys and he knows how they feel and that’s what these kids want.”

How does he measure Edwards' growth when he's not on the field?

“He actually asked me that — Donovan asked me the other day, ‘What do I need to work on, coach?’ Again, that mentality of working out at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning, he practices like it’s a game. When you practice like it’s a game, you get better. So he does get tackled live a little bit, but he understands what he needs to do for a game, because he’s getting those live reps. I think No. 1 is the way he practices every day. He doesn’t jog through practice, he finishes runs. I’m just proud — I just told him the other day, I’m just proud of the way he’s handling things and the way he’s coming in every day. That’s why I told you I have 100% confidence in him. That’s what I told him: ‘I have 100% confidence in you when called upon,’ and this team has 100% confidence when he’s called upon that he will be ready.”

Is the live tackling in 11-on-11?

“It’s small pile, it’s not live, like live-live. It’s some contact involved with some of the younger guys — some live tackles. Doesn’t get too much, though.”

How does he grade the pass vs. Wisconsin? Was it tipped?

“I call it a drop because I expect him to make that catch. For everyone else, I’d call it a tipped ball. He makes catches like those — I mean, he had a cast on his hand all spring and he caught everything. For Donovan Edwards, that’s a drop. For a normal running back, that’s a tipped ball. I just told him — he knows. He’s mad he didn’t make the catch.”

How's he doing in pass protection?

“Great, great. He understands his assignments and all those things are going to come down to him getting stronger and things like that. He’s a smart kid and understands on third down, they get into all their third-down odd packages and wild blitzes. One thing that’s helped him is playing against our defense all camp and all spring. They do a lot of good stuff on third down. He understands those things. It’s not a mental issue at all, it’s really not a physical issue. He’s a physical kid. It’s him seeing it live and doing it in-game, that’s what he’d probably tell you. That’s what he asked me the other day. I said I’ve got confidence. ‘I know you’re gonna block, but are you gonna block? We’re gonna find out.’ And he’ll get after it.”

How much has Haskins mentored Edwards?

“You guys know Hassan doesn’t talk much, right? The way he talks to y’all is the way he always is, just to let you know! Hassan’s not a big talker, but he is a guy that pulls guys to the side. And when he’s really comfortable with you, he goes and talks to them. If Donovan makes a mistake, he’ll pull him over. Sometimes (I’ll say), ‘Go tell him what went wrong!’ But Hassan, he’s a great kid, and between him and Blake, they all do a great job working with each other and helping each other out with the kids.”

How is Tavierre Dunlap coming along?

“He’s coming along, he’s doing a good job. He’s a young guy — I said it’s hard to get Donovan in the game right now, so Tavi, it’s a situation where it may happen, but I’m not sure. He’s coming along. He’s a big back, he has to keep getting better. He understands — you know, those guys are midyears. He got spring ball. He understands his assignments, but there’s only so many snaps, so many carries, there’s only so many touches. What I like, what I try to do as a coach is what I’d want someone to do for my son. I wouldn’t want my son to only play one snap a game, play two snaps on special teams, and then burn a whole year. Because some kids need to develop more than some other kids.

“Tavi, physically, can play. It’s just he’s not gonna get that many reps, so why burn a year for him. Again, he may need to play at some point this year. And it could be burnt — it would be for a valid reason not just (to burn) a whole year for him.”

What the George Jewett trophy means to him

“I think it’s one of those things, people are like, ‘Who is he?’ I think when you really look at who he is and what he did in the time period he did is really, really impressive. I went and looked it up. I just think — you think about the time — the Civil War ended in 1865, right? Jim Crow — Plessy vs. Ferguson was 1896. When you look at the dynamics in America at that time, what he had to go through when he played here — I’m from Syracuse, New York, so I grew up knowing about Floyd Little, Jim Brown, Ernie Davis. I understand what they had to go through in the 1950s, 1960s, long before — my family is from Birmingham, Alabama — my grandpa moved here when he was 16 to go to school. Just those personal stories from my grandpa, what he had to go through. Again, that was in the 1950s, 1960s. So you’re talking about a time in America when a lot of people didn’t go to college in the first place, not even Black people, right? He came to school at Michigan as a Black man, right? In the 1890s, I’m sure he went through a lot. And med school? That is really, really impressive.

“I saw a stat: there wasn’t another African American — I just say Black — another Black person that lettered at Michigan football for another 40 years. So what he did is amazing. It’s well — it’s a great honor for him. Personally, it means a lot to me. I’m excited about this with where my family is from and what they went through early on, in the history of what I know about the running backs in that area in Syracuse. It means a lot and I think it should not be overlooked, it’s not being overlooked. And it’s really, really impressive. I just think about what he had to go through week-in and week-out in the games he played in and there were fans there and what was said to him and the man he is. And to go to med school? There’s no greater honor and I’m glad we get to play for it.”

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