North Carolina Tar Heels star running back Giovani Bernard returned to his duties as punt returner today against Idaho. The same Giovani Bernard who was injured in the first half in the season opener and had to sit out two critical games. The same Bernard who is by far the most explosive and irreplaceable player on the Tar Heels roster. Does anybody sense that I don’t like this idea? Are you listening to me Larry Fedora?
Now don’t get me wrong, when the Tar Heels have a big game, I’m fine with Bernard fielding a couple punts. If it’s close in the 4th quarter, send #26 back, why not. But why on Earth was he given this chore against the Idaho Vandals? More importantly, why was he STILL the one back in the 4th quarter with UNC up 1,543,564-0 (or something close to that I can’t quite remember the exact score at the time), why?
I can’t explain it and nobody can explain it without sounding like an idiot, not even the head coach. It’s not like the team doesn’t have other players capable of returning punts. Let’s count shall we? Erik Highsmith, Roy Smith, Sean Tapley and the guy I’ve been begging to see more of, Romar Morris.
Risking injury to your most important player, especially in a game like this on special teams isn’t just stupid, it’s flat out irresponsible. Bernard was involved in a pretty scary return Saturday when his neck was nearly ripped off and his helmet came flying off (yet somehow a block in the back against Carolina was called with no mention of the most blatant face mask in NCAA history). Thankfully, Bernard was fine, but what if he wasn’t? I’ll tell you, if he wasn’t Fedora and the coaching staff would look stupid. They would have to answer questions about Bernards health and why he was returning kicks against an awful 0-4 team with Carolina clearly in control of all aspects of the game.
Sure, Bernard wants the chore, all college sophomores want the ball, even NFL guys want it when you ask them. If they say they don’t, they would be looked at as wimps. That’s why it’s the coaches job to say you know what Gio, field some punts in practice and when we need you, we’ll throw you out there a few times this season. It’s the coaches jobs to look around and realize, they have other good return options and it’s better to keep #26 on the sidelines until the offense takes the field.
Fedora seemed to understand that preserving Bernard in this game was important on offense by giving him just two carries and seven total touches. The fact that he misses this obvious fact is puzzling. I just hope it doesn’t end up coming back to hurt the team and this talented young man.