Larry Fedora finds a certain amusement in toying with the media, as evidenced by his quip earlier this week that he hasn't named a starting quarterback simply because it annoys his interrogators.
So perhaps it was that same devilish sentiment that led Fedora to offer reporters at last month’s ACC Kickoff a chance to line up against his new running back for a few tackling drills. Or maybe it was simply that the power of Elijah Hood needs to be experienced to be believed.
Either way, his point was clear: Being on the wrong side of a blow from the UNC freshman is not a pleasant experience.
“Hood is like a bull in a china closet,” Fedora said. “He’s 225 pounds, he’s got great speed and he likes to run into things. When he breaks through, he’s not looking to avoid contact. He’s looking for something to run into — our team, their team, it doesn’t matter. He just wants something to hit.”
As North Carolina gets set to open the 2014 season, Hood is currently listed as one of three backups to starter T.J. Logan, but that’s hardly an indication that the freshman will lack opportunities to deliver punishment on the field.
The Tar Heels’ backfield is diverse, with Logan playing the part of Hood’s polar opposite, a shifty, 185-pound speedster. Logan is the Ferrari. Hood is the bulldozer.
“He’s bringing the power to our backfield,” Logan said. “When DBs come up to make tackles, they’re going to have to adjust to Elijah.”
That can be a difficult adjustment, with bruisers like Andre Williams (6-0, 227) running wild last year, and a host of big backs gearing up for big seasons this year, including Florida State’s Karlos Williams (6-1, 225), Louisville’s Dominique Brown (6-2, 233), Miami’s Gus Edwards (6-1, 221), Syracuse’s Adonis Ameen-Moore (5-11, 246), and Pitt’s James Conner (6-2, 250), who also plans to play a bit at defensive end.
Even among the new faces in the conference, Hood isn’t alone in his role as battering ram. Virginia Tech has freshmen Marshawn Williams (5-11, 229) and Shai McKenzie (5-11, 221), while Louisville backs up Brown with another big back in L.J. Scott (6-1, 228).
But Hood may be the first of the true freshmen to garner a major role this season, and his presence could be a huge benefit for the Tar Heels. Fedora raved about how quickly the freshman picked up blocking schemes and blitz pickups -- “faster than any freshman I’ve had,” he said -- and Hood’s role as a between-the-tackles runner is a significant asset.
Last year, UNC had the lowest rushing average in the ACC on third-and-short runs and the fourth-lowest third-and-short conversion rate. The Heels scored on just 13 of 31 rushing attempts from inside the 5-yard line, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They also lost their biggest back from 2013 in A.J. Blue.
As the team looks to establish its ground game this season, Hood’s presence presents options.
“He’s special,” Fedora said. “What’s his role going to be? It’s hard to say that. He’s going to play in the first game and his production will determine how much he plays in the next game.”
That’s the game plan for each of North Carolina’s four primary backs, Fedora said. There’s a plan in place for touches and substitutions, but none of it is etched in stone. If Logan or Romar Morris or Khris Francis looks particularly sharp, they’ll keep getting the ball. And if it’s Hood that steals the bulk of the carries, that’s fine too.
“I have confidence in him from what I’ve seen, but there’s still some unknown,” Fedora said. “But I’m excited to see him out there.”