The 2021 edition of the UNC football season got underway on March 23rd, as the team began Spring practice.
The Tar Heels went 8-4 in 2020, which culminated in an Orange Bowl loss to Texas A&M. UNC football returns 18-of-22 starters from last season, and 21-of-22 starters from the Orange Bowl, including a recruiting class that ranked 13th in the country.
The UNC football Spring Game is scheduled for Saturday April 24 at 3:00pm and can be seen on the ACC Network.
In anticipation of the Spring Game and the fall season, we will take a look at each position group, beginning with the offense. This is the second article in the series, and the position that we will explore today are the running backs.
The challenge facing head coach Mack Brown, offensive coordinator Phil Longo and running backs coach Larry Porter is to develop a running back room that can replace the production that was lost by the exits of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. In 2020, the two combined for 2,385 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns. They also combined for 672 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns, while excelling in pass protection for quarterback Sam Howell when called upon.
There are currently six running backs on the roster. The expectation is that it will be running back-by-committee. The team will provide an opportunity for each running back on the roster to make a case for playing time. The first player is senior British Brooks. The Gastonia, North Carolina native was the special teams captain and MVP in 2020. He was the starter in the Orange Bowl where he averaged 3.5 yards per carry.
The next back is sophomore DJ Jones. The Fayetteville, North Carolina product was the 23rd-ranked player in North Carolina his senior year. His ability to catch out of the backfield is a major plus for him. The next player is Junior Josh Henderson. From Pennington, New Jersey Henderson was the No. 13 player in New Jersey his senior season. His ability to contribute on special teams is definitely an advantage for him.
Redshirt freshman Elijah Green is next on the list. The Roswell, Georgia product appeared in three games at running back, and on special teams in 2020. His average of 5.5 yards per carry is something to be excited about moving forward. The next running back and likely starter is Tennessee grad transfer and Nashville, Tennessee native Ty Chandler, who had 456 rushing yards for four touchdowns to go along with 111 receiving yards in 2020. His experience against big-time opponents such as Florida, LSU and Alabama make him an excellent addition to the roster.
Last but not least, is Rockingham, North Carolina native freshman Caleb Hood, who is a wildcard in the equation as he could very well move himself up the depth chart. He was the 43rd-ranked player in the state at Richmond Senior. Over his three years of high school, he accounted for 6,305 passing yards and 59 rushing touchdowns, as well as 1,899 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns.
Whichever players find their way onto the field will be expected to produce in 2021. With a veteran offensive line, a talented group of receivers and Heisman candidate Sam Howell at quarterback, they will have the opportunity. It will be fun seeing how the competition ends up.
For more information on the UNC football program, check back with Keeping It Heel.