In 2011 Giovanni Bernard put up 1,253 yards rushing and added 362 yards in receiving along with 13 touchdowns during his Freshman season. It should be noted that his team also started a first year player at quarterback and his head coach was fired the day before training camp. Bernard’s total yardage of 1,615 was only 99 yards short of the total number of yards LaMichael James of Oregon put up during his freshman campaign. While Bernard ground out yards in a pro style set, James flourished in Chip Kelly’s no huddle spread offense. With Larry Fedora arriving in Chapel Hill could Gio Bernard become the LaMichael James of the east coast?
Bernard looked more mature as a freshman than the seasoned running backs we have seen in Chapel Hill dating back to the days of Johnson and Johnson. Sure Jonathon Linton broke a thousand yards, but after watching the freshman running back this season Tar Heel fans know we most likely will be guaranteed only one more fall to enjoy his play on the field. Bernard is a red-shirt sophomore , and his class will be three years removed from graduating next spring which will make the Tar heel running back eligible for the NFL draft. If that happens Tar Heel fans should not be too disappointed because that will have meant we witnessed a great season from the player out of St Thomas Aquinas HS.
Coach Fedora’s high tempo “Fed Ex” offense is going to not only put Bernard in more mismatches on linebackers and safeties, but he will take less big hits than he did out of the pro set. Just like James, Bernard is going to be fresher as the season goes on, and even if his carries diminish (I highly doubt this) his yards per average in my opinion is going to increase based on the style of the offense and play calling. LaMichael Jame’s average out of the spread was 7.3 ypc this season while Bernard had an average of 5.2. Many times Bernard had little to no running room where James went untouched until about 10-12 yards after passing the line of scrimmage. Defenses this year respected only Dwight Jones, and stacked the line to stop Bernard. Along with Fedora spreading the field horizontally his ability to catch the ball out of backfield this will put even more pressure on the defense dictating how often they can blitz. The offensive line has talent to block one on one and picking up the blocking schemes quickly will be a huge factor in whether Bernard surpasses last year in a big way, or we see similar production.
One could argue that the learning curve will be steep for the Tar Heel offense, but if you watched and listened to Gio Bernard as well as Bryn Renner you see the leadership within, and feel a lot better about the future of UNC football. The best part of spring football is discussing potential versus accomplishments and I for one will take a proven player before I put my hopes in the ones who sat behind them the previous season. Gio Bernard will have to earn it on the field, but after watching the Freshman comeback from knee surgery to have the season he did my money is on the one we call Gio, but has a corvette engine built inside.
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