Michigan football always has been closely associated with a strong running game.

But that took a hit last season.

That’s partly because of the offensive line, which featured new players at the three interior spots, and because of a group of running backs who, although boasting of some talented youth, didn’t have the type of depth needed to make an impact.

Michigan averaged 125.7 yards rushing (102nd nationally) and was 121st out of 123 teams in tackles-for-loss allowed. Those statistics played an enormous role in the lack of a consistent offense during a 7-6 season.

But with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who spent the previous two seasons at Alabama, the focus is clear.

“Definitely bring that run game back,” said Derrick Green, who will be a sophomore this fall. “That’s what Michigan is about, running the ball downhill.

“Running the ball is something we had to get back at the University of Michigan. I feel this unit is definitely going to bring that back to Michigan.”

Justice Hayes, the veteran of the running back group and a redshirt junior, said the lack of a run-game presence will be no more.

“We’re just hungry as a running back group and as a team,” Hayes said. “We’re hungry. We’re tired of the past.”

The running backs like the energy Nussmeier has brought and love his approach, saying it differs from former offensive coordinator Al Borges in that it is more run-first, pass-second.

And, Nussmeier has made clear his offense prefers a multiple-back approach.

“It’s been a blast the past three practices,” said fullback Joe Kerridge, a redshirt junior. “We’ve been going hard at the running back position. We’re doing a lot of rotation. It’s been real good for the running backs, and we’ve been having a real good time with it.”

The running backs also have said Nussmeier has simplified the running schemes, making them easier to grasp, and the up-tempo nature of practice has allowed for more reps and an increased hands-on approach to learning his playbook.

The bottom line, Green said, is this will be more of a downhill rushing attack.

“This offense is great for what we’re trying to get at Michigan,” he said.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke, entering his fourth season, said he likes the depth of this group. Drake Johnson missed last season with a knee injury, but is making a gradual return. Defensive back Ross Douglas moved to running back to shore up the depth.

While Hayes drew considerable praise toward the end of last season, Green and Smith could be the type of one-two punch Nussmeier likes to feature.