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Ann Arbor — Zach Charbonnet, Michigan’s freshman running back who enrolled early but had to miss spring practice because of a knee procedure, was behind entering preseason camp. That didn't last long.

Teammates and coaches described how Charbonnet was a constant in the weight room even after his surgery and how he kept himself focused on the playbook although he couldn’t participate in spring drills. The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder from California led the Wolverines in rushing with 90 yards on eight carries in their 40-21 season-opening victory over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday night.

Tru Wilson, Michigan's only running back with substantial playing time, entered camp as the No. 1 back, and Christian Turner, who was coming on late last season but was hampered by injuries in the spring, was No. 2. Michigan has five backs and all played against the Blue Raiders.

Turner was the second-leading rusher with 49 yards on 11 carries, Wilson had two carries for eight yards, Ben VanSumeren had seven yards on four carries and scored the Wolverines’ final touchdown on a 1-yard run, and Hassan Haskins didn't gain a yard on two carries.

But it was Charbonnet who stood out.

“Just felt like Zach, throughout training camp, was performing at the highest level,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He was No. 1 on the depth chart when we finally made the depth chart. I thought he played really well in protection, seeing the holes, making the cuts, protecting the ball.

"Looked like a very experienced back out there to me. Stage wasn’t too big for him. He played physical, but he had his eyes open and was seeing the lanes and making the cuts. Looked really good. A lot of the things we’d seen in practice all month long, we saw out there tonight in the game.”

Quarterback Shea Patterson, who had 28 rushing yards on nine carries — quarterback Dylan McCaffrey ran for 42 yards on eight carries — said the running backs gave the offense a boost. Of the Wolverines’ 233 rushing yards, 154 came from the backs.

“Running backs ran the ball really hard,” Patterson said.

Harbaugh was pleased overall with the position group.

“All of our backs, all five we really like and trust running the football played in the game and did extremely well,” Harbaugh said. “I thought Christian Turner had two of the best 10-yard runs you could have. The one on the boundary that got us a first down that was really exceptional to not go out of bounds and turn up field and get that first down. I don’t know if it was third, fourth, fifth effort, it was at least third effort to get the first down on the hard run he made. He just refused to go down.

“They were all really good in protection as was our offensive line.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis

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