RB: A Cast of Candidates

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--With Ronnie McGill departing due to graduation and rising senior Barrington Edwards' future with the football team in doubt, the Tar Heels are looking for someone to fill the void. The candidates are there but lack experience.

This spring has been an audition of sorts with a new head coach, a new offense, and the lack of experience putting everyone in the same position--vying for playing time.

"We've put in a lot be we don't know what the ranking is right now--one, two, three--so you are getting a bunch of guys some reps, and that keeps any one guy from getting just a ton of reps," said running backs coach Kenny Browning with just two more practice days remaining before the spring football game. "That makes it a little harder in some ways to get a guy ready. We'll have to narrow it down some in the fall to make sure we have three guys ready to play that know the whole deal. We are not there right now."

McGill and Edwards accounted for the bulk of the carries and the yardage in an offense that averaged 113 yards on the ground over the course of the season. The top two returning gainers at the running back position are rising senior walk-on Justin Warren and rising sophomore Bobby Rome, combining for just over seven yards per game.

Rome, who just started learning the fullback position last season is getting the bulk of the reps in the spring.

"The spring is going great," he said. "I'm able to get a lot of reps with me being the only fullback. I'm starting to learn how to play the position. Last year I really didn't know what I was doing. I was just trying to run up in there and block people or go out in the flat and make some plays.

"This year they are trying to disguise a lot of things by sending me in motion and stuff like that. They are able to get me out in the flat quicker, able to get me out in open space to make plays, and also able to get me a better angle to make blocks. It's more like an H-back position than a fullback, so we don't really call it fullback I'm hardly ever lined up in the I; most of the time I'm lined up in the slot, bunch, or motion across."

"He's not played much fullback," said Browning. "He played some last year as a fullback, so there is a lot he has to learn how to do as a fullback. But he can be a very good fullback for us. He has just got to become a little darker blue collar.

"He's got good ball skills, he can run after catches, he's got good intelligence about the position, so I think Bobby will be a good player. He's just got to become a consistently more physical blocker, and part of that is technique and part of it is the toughness of just having done it 1,000 times--and he just hasn't been able to do it 1,000 times."

Rome is looking forward to what Coach Davis has in mind for him in the coming season's offense.

"Coach Davis told me when he got here that he was going to try to get me more touches and try to get me the ball out in the flat, use more of the ability I have throwing, catching, running, and blocking. I'm just going to wait for the coaches to call my name and try to make plays when I get the ball in my hands…

"It gives you another option out there. It puts the linebacker in a position where he is thinking, 'Is he coming to lead block on me, or is he shooting out to the flats?' Sometimes it puts pressure on the corner and has him thinking, 'This guys is just sitting out here in the flat.' It puts me one-on-one with a defensive back where I'm agile enough to make him miss and I'm strong enough to run him over. It sets up things where maybe the other team puts more linebackers in the game and I'm able to run routes against them. It puts them in a spot where they have to decide whether to put a defensive back or a linebacker out there."

At the tailback position the candidates are there, and the competition will force the best performers to step forward. Right now it's just a matter of learning and then performing. Anthony Elzy, Richie Rich, Johnny White, Anthony Parker-Boyd, and Justin Warren are all a part of the competition.

"The guys have taken turns a little bit," said Browning. "I think they have all had good spots. The key now is that we are looking for more consistency, guys who will not turn the ball over. When the play is over we want to make sure we still have the football. We need someone who can handle the volume from a mental standpoint, especially in pass protection. There is not one that hasn't made progress and hasn't made some plays."

"I saw flashes from Johnny White before he got injured," said Rome. "He has explosiveness and speed. Richie Rich is a big play-making back. Any time he touches the ball he has a chance to break it. Elzy, he runs really low, he's really strong, he breaks a lot of tackles, makes a lot of plays also. Justin Warren is really smart. He knows how to run every play exactly how it's drawn up. APB has been coming up big. He's a big play-making back. He can make people miss. We have a lot of different guys who can do a lot of different things. This year we are going to try to use that. Coach Shoop's offense is getting the ball in the playmaker's hands. He's going to set guys up to make plays."

"I think everybody is doing well," said Warren. "Everybody brings a little different aspect to the game. Elzy is kind of a power guy. Richie Rich is really shifty. APB and Johnny White have a blend of both, so we have a deep backfield… I think there are certain plays and packages that lend themselves to certain players' strengths. For example, Rich is like 195 and Elzy is 220-225. That is just a different element that he brings to the game."

The next step for the running backs involves the off-season and the preparation on their own time leading into the fall, which consists of two important parts.

"Increasing film watching," said Warren. "We have tons and tons of reps from NFL guys and then from all of spring ball, just picking through all that stuff. Then there is getting into the weight room to gain more leg strength and getting faster and more explosive."

Inside Carolina Top Stories