Logan suffered his knee injury midway through training camp. For the next month and a half, he watched practice from strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez’s beach.
The beach, however, is not as fun as it sounds. Tucked away in a corner of Navy Fields, Hernandez inherits rehabbing players and pushes them to stay in shape without further irritating their injuries.
“When I got injured in training camp, I had to come back and do a lot of game ready stuff, which is like icing and compression,” Logan told reporters following Tuesday’s practice. “I did that a lot and also in the weight room I didn’t too much squatting. Just keeping my upper body healthy. After that I had to come to the field to do a lot of workouts on the beach. Since you can’t practice, you’ve got to keep your body healthy, so you do a lot of workouts out there with Coach Lou.”
The physical facet of the Greensboro, N.C. native’s rehab wasn’t the only factor involved in his return to the gridiron. UNC running backs coach Randy Jordan worked on Logan’s mental comprehension of the game while he was sidelined.
“The biggest thing is that he knows what do,” Jordan said. “During the time he was rehabbing, he was able to get in the film room, learn the little nuances, how to study film, and what to look for when you’re looking at an opponent. What we’d do when he finished rehab with Lou was we’d have him go with Coach (Travis) Riley and he would have to tell him what the play was and what his assignment was. It really just helped him mentally with reps.”
Logan, who said a red-shirt season was never discussed, garnered praise from Jordan for his obvious talent and potential at running back.
“Physically, he’s gifted in some areas that when God was handing out speed, he said, ‘Here you go, you take a little bit more than the other person.’” Jordan said. “For somebody to be as big as he is, he’s really strong and that’s the thing that surprised me. He’s a really good inside runner. He can put his foot in the ground. The one thing about him is he can close on you fast, so if you take a bad angle, you might as well put six on the board.”
North Carolina ranks 113th in the country in rushing offense through five games this season, averaging 100 yards per contest. No Tar Heel running back has rushed for over 100 yards in 2013 after Giovani Bernard surpassed that mark on five separate occasions in 2012.
According to Jordan, Logan’s “natural ability” as a running back provides promise in the backfield moving forward.
“Most guys that are great runners have a feel for when to cut back, when to plant and get the ball outside,” said Jordan. “You really don’t do a whole lot of coaching. You coach technique in terms of footwork, landmarks, tracks and what your reads are. I tell them we’re going to get you to the line of scrimmage and the rest is up to you. I can’t make you a runner. Some guys have it and some guys don’t, but T.J. definitely has it.”
Logan made his North Carolina debut Saturday in Blacksburg against the Hokies. The freshman had five carries for 25 yards and one reception for an eight-yard gain in the 27-17 loss.
Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson noted after his first outing that Logan looked comfortable on the field.
“I think he sees things pretty well,” Anderson said. “He sees some cuts and breaks that just come natural to him. He’s got some toughness about him as a freshman. He seems older than he is. He’s got to get back in the fold and make sure assignment wise he’s up to date and caught up with the time that he missed. Athletically there’s just some special things he brings to the table that allow you to be explosive at times.”
One knock on Logan’s performance centered on his lapses in pass protection.
“We had a couple tweaks on Saturday where he wasn’t in the right spot, but he’ll learn from it,” Anderson said. “He’s not afraid to step up and hit a guy, which gives you a chance for success in the first place. He’s a physical guy now it’s just taking that to the field and using it in the right way in our scheme.”
Logan acknowledged the need for improvement with his blocking ability.
“That’s something I’ve got to focus on,” Logan said. “Just blocking in general. Bigger guys coming at me I’ve got to be able to cut. I really didn’t have to block too much in high school so that’s something I’ve got to pick up on.”
Most young running backs struggle with this aspect early in their career. Despite the miscues, Jordan expects Logan to continue to grow and improve with each snap he takes.
“As soon as he made a mistake in the game he knew he was wrong,” Jordan said. “We had a couple of things that happened in the game that he wished he could get back mentally. The more and more he continues to practice the more it’ll become a part of his DNA. I think he’s going to continue to get better and he’s so young. He wants to be good so we’re looking forward to working with him.”
UNC head coach Larry Fedora acknowledged Logan’s return to the field for the Tar Heels during his radio show on Tuesday night.
“He made a lot of mistakes and he’s just going to get better,” Fedora said. “We’re glad to have him back out there with us and going a hundred percent. He’s going to play more and more as we go.”