Fifth-year senior A.J. Blue rushed for 30 yards on eight carries and caught a screen pass for a 33-yard touchdown, while red-shirt sophomore Romar Morris carried the ball 15 times for 80 yards and pulled in two catches for 25 yards.
True freshman Khris Francis, who enrolled at UNC in January, churned out a team-high 101 yards on 20 carries in a losing effort as the Blue team defeated their White opposition, 34-10.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora told reporters during his postgame press conference that Blue and Morris “are pretty even right now” at the top of the depth chart, while Francis is alone on the next line.
Even so, the Durham (N.C.) Hillside product completed a solid spring by showcasing his vision and quickness against the first-team defense in front of an estimated 15,000 fans at Kenan Stadium.
“Really I thought all three of them did a nice job,” Fedora said. “But Khris, for his first time out there in a game-type atmosphere, I thought he did a good job. I don’t know what he ended up with, but he hit some holes and exploded in them.
“There was one time I thought he got stood up. I said something to him and the next time he’s got his shoulders down and he’s running north and south. That’s what he’s got to do, so he did some nice things.”
UNC’s frenetic pace has proven to be difficult for Francis, as well as learning a college-grade playbook, but his instinctive ability to find a hole and hit it has made the transition from high school ball.
“I feel like seeing the holes is still the same,” Francis. “The biggest difference is how fast the linebackers flow into those holes. That’s the biggest change that I’ve had to try to cope with and deal with.”
One area where the rookie has struggled this spring has been protecting the football. That’s where Blue – widely accepted as the offense’s leader along with quarterback Bryn Renner – has come into play as a mentor.
“I’ve just been there to coach him to let him know that you’ve got to have short-term memory and forget about those fumbles,” Blue said. “It’s going to happen; that’s just the life of a running back.”
Blue serves the role as UNC’s bruiser, although he’s worked diligently this offseason to improve his receiving skills out of the backfield, as evidenced by his slip screen touchdown pass.
Morris, on the other hand, offers speed on top of speed.
“Romar’s not going to get run down from goal line to goal line because he can explode,” Fedora said.
While all three running backs bring different strengths to the meeting room table, there hasn’t been a focus on divvying up responsibilities.
“We’re just going out here and playing football,” Blue said. “That’s all we’re doing. We’re not trying to distinguish any type of characteristics between us as running backs. We’re all just running the ball and trying to make plays and doing the best we can to score touchdowns.”
Blue acknowledged his position group has had good days and bad days against the defense this spring, but the emphasis has been on churning out four- and five-yard runs consistently. The aforementioned trio, along with walk-on Charles Brunson, accomplished that goal on Saturday, averaging 4.4 yards on 57 total rushes.
Fedora also pointed to a significant number of busted pass protects this spring from his running backs, an area where Bernard quietly thrived last fall.
Even more running back help will arrive this summer with the addition of North Carolina’s AP player of the year T.J. Logan. The Greensboro, N.C. native rushed for 3,146 yards and 47 touchdowns as a senior and is expected to contend for playing time in the fall.