Spring Game Preview: Rushing

In a series of articles this week, <i>Inside Carolina</i> looks ahead to the Spring Game. The Tar Heels, who finished last in the ACC in rushing last season, look to get the running game on track with some new, and some familiar, names at tailback.

One of the goals of the Tar Heel Spring Practice has been to establish a running game. On Saturday, here is what to look for when the Tar Heels run the ball.

Head coach John Bunting is very high on Ronnie McGill, a true freshman who enrolled in January and was available for spring practice. However, the prototypical "big back" has been sidelined for over a week with an ankle sprain. He was cleared back to practice on Saturday, but did not participate in Saturday's scrimmage.

"Ronnie McGill, who has missed the last two weeks, demonstrated that he has (1) good vision, (2) balance, (3) tough enough to bounce off tacklers, and (4) fast enough to take some of those shorter gains and make into bigger gains," Bunting said Saturday, "I liked what I saw. It was unfortunate that he hasn't practiced very much."

When asked to describe McGill, North Carolina quarterback Darian Durant said, "(He is) a big guy. Big back who can bring a lot of power with him. He also has great vision. I think that he's a lot far ahead of a lot of freshman running backs who come into school because of his size and his strength, and that's really going to help him out at this level."

Whether or not fans will see much of McGill on Saturday depends on whether he is up to full speed or is still hampered by his ankle sprain. Regardless of whether fans get to see McGill fully healthy, it is likely they will come away impressed with the Tar Heel running game. Another newcomer, Chad Scott, figures prominently in the invigorated offense, but some familiar names have also stepped up this spring.

Chad Scott, a transfer from Kentucky finally eligible to play next season for the Tar Heels, brings another element to the running game. "Chad Scott can take a 5-yard gainer and make it into a 20-yard gainer," Bunting said. "He can take a 15-yard gainer and make it into a 45 or a touchdown. That's the kind of speed that he has."

"He brings the speed aspect to the game," Durant said of Scott. "He really has the ability to cut back and to also make cuts at full speed, which is very difficult to do.

The familiar names at running back who have stepped this spring are Jacque Lewis and Willie Parker. "Competition brings out the best in everybody," Bunting said. "Usually it does. I think Jacque has had his best spring. I think Willie Parker is having his best spring since I've been here. So, I think that's evidence in itself there that those guys know that we're gonna play the best players and we're getting some guys to play a little bit better. A little bit more intense."

Parker, who has a reputation of looking to run outside rather than between the tackles, seems more willing to stick the ball up the middle. "He most certainly does," Bunting said. "I think he's run a lot tougher this spring than he has. I'm really proud of him. At one point we were down to two tail backs today. So, you don't know what's going to happen in that position. Guys get nicked up and it was great to see him playing the way he has been doing the last few weeks."

One new face the Tar Heel fans won't see on next Saturday is Rikki Cook's, who is having his knee scoped today for "loose bodies." The surgery is considered minor and Cook is expected to be back fully recovered by fall practice.

The format of the Spring Game favors the first-team offense, as they will play against the second-team defense, comprised largely by red-shirt freshmen and younger players. Don't be surprised if the UNC running game is not the story of the Spring Game.

"With the mix of speed and power back there, it's really going to be to our advantage," Durant said, not only of the Spring Game but as the 2003 season starts next fall.

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