Shoop, Part V: Grinding Forward

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- The news wasn't all bad for the 2009 UNC offense. The running back tandem of Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston combined for an improvement from the year before.

The UNC running game went from 122.6 yards-per-game and 3.53 yards-per-carry in 2008, to 132.9 yards-per-game and 3.62 yards-per-carry last season.

Modest improvement, to be sure, but improvement nonetheless.

Though it didn't receive the attention that the injury situation on the offensive line received, the running back depth chart was hit hard during the season.

"We lost a tailback in A.J. Blue, we lost a tailback in Jamal Womble," UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop said. "By the end of the year, Anthony Elzy and Johnny White, who weren't slated to play any tailback for us, were playing a lot of tailback. So we lost three of probably our top five tailbacks throughout the year."

What also didn't receive a lot of attention was the contribution made by the wide receivers to the running game. The number of runs from the wide receiver spot nearly doubled.

Greg Little and Jheranie Boyd combined to carry the ball 49 times for 296 yards. Johnny White added 19 carries for 143 yards, some of which came from the wide receiver position. It was a solid and productive part of the running game and helped get the wide receivers more involved when the passing game struggled.

By way of contrast, Hakeem Nicks, Brooks Foster, Cooter Arnold, and Brandon Tate (though Tate played only half the season due to injury), had only 19 carries in 2008. Greg Little also added nine runs from the wide receiver spot after switching over from the running back spot.

Shoop is optimistic about continuing to improve the running game.

"I think Shaun is going to be a solid player, I think Rhino (Ryan Houston) is continuing to get better and better and has proven he can carry the load. I think we will be strong at the tailback spot, getting Shaun back."

The position group is experienced, but thin. Draughn and Houston are both rising seniors. The recent news that Jamal Womble is no longer with the team and that the injury to A.J. Blue may require an entire year or more to rehab, makes room for one or more true freshmen running backs to step in and get some reps. UNC is looking to sign two backs in this February's class.

The Tar Heels do have a returning utility player, the aforementioned Johnny White, that has played well for them over the course of his career at a variety of positions.

"I give Johnny a lot of credit for stepping in and doing a lot of different things for us," Shoop said. "He played tailback, wideout, slot, gunner; I mean the guy is just a good football player."

While the UNC offense hasn't truly excelled in any year since Butch Davis's arrival in Chapel Hill, Shoop remains optimistic that 2010 can be a breakout year.

"As a staff, and as a group of players, we're going to put our heads down this spring, this summer and work our tails off to get better," Shoop said. "We've got a lot of guys that are getting healthy, we've got a lot of freshmen that are going to become sophomores, and we are going to have more experience than we've had. We are going to have more depth than we've had. We are going to have a heck of a lot better play than we've had, I think, than at any time since we've been here."

If Shoop's prediction comes true, it could be a special season for the Tar Heels.

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders sat down with UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop earlier this month for a one-on-one interview. This is Part III of a five-part series running all this week from that interview session.
Part I: No Excuses
Part II: Bouncing Back
Part III: Fitting the Mold
Part IV: Learning Curve
Part V: Grinding Forward

For even more insider analysis, stay tuned for the comprehensive "Offseason Report" in the March Issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine, due out next month, featuring interviews with offensive coordinator John Shoop and defensive coordinator Everett Withers.

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