Harbaugh's on-field impact at Michigan
A lot has been made about Jim Harbaugh’s off-field impact at Michigan, but what can his time with the 49ers tell us about what the Wolverines will look like on the field this season?
Under Harbaugh the San Francisco offense, like Stanford’s before it, featured a physical and effective ground attack, with a reliance on additional blocking from the tight end and fullback spots. Both of those positions are about to take on greater importance in Ann Arbor.
In 2014 the 49ers were in 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end) on 24 percent of plays, compared to Michigan’s 12 percent, and 22 personnel (two backs, two tight ends) on 12 percent of plays compared to 5 percent.
We’re taking this as an indicator that Michigan will likely utilize more two-back sets, which is good news for fullback Joe Kerridge. Kerridge finished 2014 with the nation’s 25th-best overall grade at the position, despite playing just 182 snaps — a number that’s lower than 62 fullbacks.
Tight ends took 23.8 percent of the remaining offensive snaps for Michigan in 2014. That was very similar to the 49ers’ 24.7 percent from 2014, but much lower than the 31.6 percent of snaps claimed by 49ers tight ends from 2011 to 2013 — the height of Harbaugh’s success with the team.
Wolverines tight end Jake Butt opened 2014 recovering from injury, then failed to fully establish himself in a struggling offense. He proved to be a reliable receiver, however, dropping just one pass for a 4.55 drop rate, 17th out of 95 qualifying tight ends. He looks primed to break out with a larger role in 2015.