One last chance

Due to nagging injuries that have slowed three of North Carolina's four tailbacks, the UNC coaches are not much closer to determining how to use them than they were at the beginning of training camp. Willie Parker [<I>pictured</I>] will get the first look, but Saturday's match-up with Florida State will serve as an early measuring stick in determining the rotation for the rest of the season.

"The best man is going to win the job," Parker said. "If we had run the ball a little better last year, that would have opened up the passing game. You have a lot of options if you can run the ball, and we really haven't been getting the job done."

Not only will the UNC coaches be looking for answers with regard to personnel in their running attack, but just surviving FSU's defense for 60 minutes will present another challenge.

The Seminoles veteran unit spent the last month beating up on its own offense, to a point that FSU head coach Bobby Bowden is looking to use this game with the Tar Heels to gauge its progress.

"I'll be anxious to play somebody and find out how good our defense is," Bowden said. "It has dominated our offense in the spring and fall. They should though, they've got 10 starters back and two tackles that didn't play in the bowl game but started last year.

"The offense knows what is happening over there and why they're getting beat up, and the fact that we've got an offensive line going up against a defensive front that has eight guys that can play. We've got the best linebackers we've ever had here, and we've got a veteran secondary."

Still, Carolina has not held this much preseason optimism for its running game in years. As it should, the Tar Heels depth at tailback will be a decisive asset, especially once the principals know their roles before the opening kickoff.

Once known primarily as a finesse runner, Parker has worked hard during his college career to improve his power and become more of a north-south runner. Chad Scott is a quick, smaller back that can make the big play. Jacque Lewis may have the best moves and has grown into a much stronger back. Ronnie McGill is the bruiser with a nose for the end zone, as he demonstrated by rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown in the Spring Game.

Each contender for the ball is strikingly different. There is bona fide speed in Parker and Scott, while Lewis and McGill both possess bruising strength and slashing ability.

But Parker has used this training camp to inch himself on top of the others, at least for now. He has hit the holes harder in practice and impressed the person he must to get his share of carries.

"He is certainly different from all of the rest…he never misses a practice," UNC head coach John Bunting said. "But what he has done this year to distinguish himself is he has learned to hit the hole quicker with less stutter, and he is able to see more of the field to make more plays both inside and outside.

"He's very durable and is probably the fastest of the group."

Parker's preference for taking the ball outside and injuries limited his carries last year. In the opener versus Miami (Ohio), he carried the ball just three times. Against Texas he only had two, five at Arizona State and six at Florida State.

Now though, Parker appears to have been reborn with a new willingness to stick it up between the tackles and set an example of how hard work pays off.

"I'm the senior, and I've got to take on the leadership role," Parker said. "That is something I've haven't done since I've been here. I've haven't been like a teacher, but I've got to bring that to the game this year."

In many ways, it is up to Parker. He has to prove to the staff he is ready to be the back they want to get on the field, or he will almost certainly spend a good deal of his final year watching from the sidelines. And once he is on the field he has to get the job done.

Don't be shocked if it comes together for him that way, in this, his final season.

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