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Michigan appears good to go at running back

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Week 1 provided a glimpse into what Michigan’s RB pecking order could be moving forward.

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Florida vs Michigan Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Every time a good player at Michigan leaves due to graduation or entering the NFL Draft, there’s a concern about replacing that production. It isn’t easy filling the void of players like Jabrill Peppers, Devin Bush, and who we’ll focus on for a moment, running back Karan Higdon.

Higdon was Michigan’s go-to guy at the position the last two seasons, amassing 2,172 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Heading into Michigan’s Week 1 game versus Middle Tennessee State, there was talk that Tru Wilson would be the starter, and Jim Harbaugh mentioned that Zach Charbonnet was “coming on like a freight train”. It was still somewhat uncertain who’d be the lead back to start the season.

Michigan went with incoming freshman Zach Charbonnet, the Los Angeles Times Running Back of the Year in 2018.

Charbonnet did nothing but impress in his first showing, looking like he could be a versatile threat, both as a rusher and receiving option. Charbonnet rushed for 90 yards on 8 carries and had 2 receptions for 9 yards.

“I just felt like Zach throughout training camp was performing at the highest level. He was number one on the depth chart when we finally made the depth chart” head coach Jim Harbaugh said. 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. Wasn’t too big for him. He played physical but he had his eyes open, seeing the lanes and making the cuts. Looked really good. A lot of things we’ve seen in practice we saw tonight out there in the game.”

Charbonnet stands 6-foot-1, 220 pounds and has a mix of elusiveness, power, and deceptive speed due to his long strides. Charbonnet’s stop and go, quick cutting ability in the open field was something to take note of.

A small sample size, but real good film put out into the stratosphere by Charbonnet. Film that leads me to believe he’s got the potential to be the best back Jim Harbaugh’s had at Michigan.

Charbonnet wasn’t the only back that fared well in Week 1. Christian Turner actually carried more times than Charbonnet, rushing 11 times for 49 yards.

Harbaugh did mention that they’re comfortable with all five backs, trusts them, and thought they all did well in pass protection. However, the two Harbaugh talked about the most at his presser were Charbonnet and Turner.

“I thought Christian Turner had two of the best ten-yard runs you could have,” Harbaugh said. “Number one, on the boundary, it got us a first down, that was really exceptional to not go out of bounds and turn upfield and get that first down. I don’t know if it was the third, fourth or fifth effort, it was at least third effort, to get the first down on the hard run that he made. He just refused to go down.”

It’s one game, it was against Middle Tennessee, but whether it’s college or the NFL, there’s as much talent at the running back position now than at any point in the history of the game. Running backs come, running backs go, and while one may not necessarily be ‘easy’ to replace, there’s a higher percentage of their heir apparent’s to pick up where they left off.

Beyond Charbonnet and Turner, Tru Wilson has already shown to be a proven pass-blocker and threat in the running game. Hassan Haskins and Ben VanSumeren didn’t get a ton of action, and it remains to be seen if it’ll stay that way or the RB depth chart becomes a true committee and fluid situation moving forward.

No matter who leads the team in carries this season, the team appears to be in solid shape at the position, barring any injuries in a sport where there’s plenty of them. The good news for Michigan is a young Charbonnet showed all-purpose back ability and Christian Turner had enough productive film to warrant a thumbs up, too.