Spring Spotlight: RB

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – There will be no debate surrounding the starting tailback position in 2006. Ronnie McGill is healthier than he's ever been during his college career and will be counted on to lead the North Carolina tailbacks in his senior season. However, the UNC coaches have to find him some help, and have several candidates vying for the backup positions.

McGill, nicknamed "The Franchise," enters his final campaign coming off a injury-shortened junior season. Still, in just seven appearances, he led the Tar Heels with 530 rushing yards and five touchdowns. McGill gained an average of 4.1 yards per carry and also caught seven passes for 99 yards.

But numbers aren't what define him. It's his punishing running style that has earned him respect as one of the most physical backs in the nation.

"He puts a lot of people to sleep," UNC running backs coach Andre' Powell said. "In other words, when they come up and try to tackle him, he gets up and they stay on the ground.

"Our team loves that. When he does that – and he's running hard, our line feeds off that and our crowd feeds off it."

McGill has also been a solid citizen and ambassador of UNC football and has been one of John Bunting's favorite players since he came to Carolina in ‘03.

"Ronnie is obviously a tough kid, smart kid, does things right," Bunting said.

"I want to get Ronnie as many carries as he can – that will be important for us to win. We need to run the football better and that starts up front and then goes right to Ronnie. He's got to make some plays for us."

Entering this spring, junior walk-on Justin Warren has been penciled in as the backup after impressing coaches and teammates in limited duty last season. He rushed for 86 yards on just 17 carries (5.1 yards per carry).

"Justin Warren really impressed me in our last couple of games," McGill said. "He works hard, he tries hard and he really knows the offense. He knows how to pick up in protection. He's not just a regular running back. He gets out in passes and he can catch. He has the talent to become of a really good running back.

"Justin has worked hard, done everything we've asked him to do and he doesn't make mistakes," added Powell. "When you do those things and you're disciplined with the football, then you look at the things the way you're supposed to and you react. That's when good things happen."

Junior transfer Barrington Edwards finished with 387 rushing yards last season, while Cooter Arnold ran for 187, though Arnold has since been moved to free safety.

Other candidates include Richie Rich, R.J Waters and Antwain Carey, all of whom are getting carries in practice thus far.

And another name has joined the backfield. Enter redshirt freshman Bobby Rome, a 240-pound bruiser whose talent screams for playing time. He was moved to tailback because UNC coaches know they can't afford to leave him on the sidelines while he waits to get a shot at quarterback.

"We've got to find another guy," Powell said. "We felt like this was the best chance Bobby had to get on the field and the natural fit is running back and special teams. He's a good athlete and a big body. He's got power and works real hard. He'll get as many reps this spring as anybody."

Along with the rest of the offense, the running backs will have to get adjusted to the tactics, styles and philosophies of new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and offensive line coach Mark Weber – both of whom joined the Tar Heels after working together at Fresno State.

Yet, with the new coaches brings a new look and new excitement.

"They're not just new to us, they're new to all of our opponents," McGill said. "A lot of people knew what Coach [Gary] Tranquill ran and his tendencies. But not many people know Coach Cignetti, and it's going to give us an opportunity to bring something new to the table."

Powell believes the offensive line and running backs work hand in hand and expects the adjustment to the new coaches to be a successful one.

"Coach Weber has been in a system, so the transition and as far as what Coach Cignetti wants is going to be much quicker than hiring a line coach from somewhere else," Powell said. "That's going to be a big help. Some of the things where the line and the running backs work hand in hand, he can help me out."

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