Ben Mason Seeking To Add To Michigan's History Of Two-Way Players

Ben Mason will see snaps this spring at fullback and defensive line, positioning him to play both sides of the ball.

With spring football beginning Sunday, Jim Harbaugh announced today that junior Ben Mason will continue to see opportunities at fullback in short-yardage and goal-line situations, but that he will also get plenty of practice reps along the defensive line to see if he can impact the Wolverines there also (oh, and maybe tight end and defensive end).

It remains to be seen what this will look like, or even if this is nothing more than a spring experiment. Truth is, the idea of a legitimate platoon player is almost unheard of in today's game (it was commonplace up until the late 1950s and into the 1960s). And Michigan has really never had someone that was intimately involved both offensively and defensively at the same time over the last half century.

About the closest U-M has come to using a player for significant snaps on both sides of the ball would be 1997 Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. He starred for three seasons as the best defensive back in football (and, arguably, the best defensive player in 1996 and 1997), and also saw a fairly consistent workload as a receiver, catching 25 balls over his final two seasons along with 11 rushing attempts (for some fun trivia, he was also 2 for 2 passing for 32 yards).

Will Carr was an All-American defensive tackle in 1996 when he recorded 15 tackles for loss. The 6-0, 285-pounder also was used on a few goal-line situations during his career, rushing five times for five yards, with a touchdown against Michigan State in 1995. He's the only fullback/defensive lineman I can remember, though quite a bit larger than the 6-3, 254-pound Mason.

In 2015-16, Michigan utilized Jabrill Peppers has a wildcat QB and a running back/receiver (though not nearly well enough, using him as one-trick pony) as he averaged 5.3 yards per carry on 45 touches with five TDs, and caught 10 balls for 82 yards while anchoring the Maize and Blue defense from a linebacker/hybrid position.

The rest of Michigan's two-way players are represented in a handful of opportunities. All-American WR David Terrell played cornerback in a 1999 game against Michigan State, trying to cover Plaxico Burress (it was, not surprisingly, a disaster). Cornerback James Whitley saw a dozen snaps or so at wide receiver in 2000, catching one ball. Wideout Ron Bellamy got a little run at corner as a junior in 2001. Backup corner Ambry Thomas handled two jet sweeps in a pair of games as a sophomore in 2018.

There have probably been others. None that distinguished themselves.

Obviously, there is little evidence of successful platooning players in the winged helmet. Woodson and Peppers are outliers, considered two of the greatest physical specimens the program has ever had.

Mason is a unique character, and before he even arrived on campus, there were suggestions he could be an excellent linebacker. At his size - and he is likely heavier, U-M has not released a spring roster yet - Mason is too big to be an effective LB in 2019, but he could add valuable depth to an interior DL position that has just three returning players and is counting on a pair of freshmen (Mazi Smith and Chris Hinton) to play key roles.

Mason is a football player's football player. He could play in any era and likely succeed. He's a nasty, scary strong mass of muscle, intensity, effort and passion so if anyone could do it, he could. But I'll reserve judgment until we see it in action.

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