One of the biggest questions facing UNC coach Larry Fedora this spring was how he is going to possibly replace running back Giovani Bernard, who finished 2012 as the ACC’s leading rusher, leading scorer, top punt returner and leader in all-purpose yards.
Answer: It starts with A.J. Blue.
Fedora said on Thursday that if the season began today, Blue would be in the starting lineup. He also said, though, that Romar Morris had the best spring -- and that true freshman Khris Francis was one of the biggest surprises of the spring game. So while Blue might be the leader on the depth chart heading into fall camp, North Carolina found out this spring that it will have more than one player capable of helping to compensate for the loss of Bernard, who declared early for the NFL draft.
“I thought those guys did a nice job,” Fedora said. “If we had to start out tomorrow, we would go with A.J. Blue right now. A.J. Blue has emerged as a team leader, not just on the offensive side of the ball, but the entire team. A.J. is about 215, 220 pounds, a guy who’s going to finish off all his runs. He’s going to be the bruiser type of runner, he’s going to do a really nice job of being physical, and he does a great job in pass protection and he can catch the ball well."
Blue is a redshirt senior who didn't get his first career start until last fall against Wake Forest. He made the most of it, running for a career-high 106 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. While he established himself as the starter this spring, he actually wasn't the top performer in the group, according to Fedora.
“A.J. is a guy that can really come on for us, but the guy probably that had the best spring was Romar,” he said. “Romar Morris is a guy who can take you from goal line to goal line. He’s got special speed and skills. He’s much more effective as he’s slowed down to be able to see the zones, the zone run, and all of the seams that are created that way. I’m real excited about what Romar is going to bring to the table this year.”
UNC fans seem to be equally eager to see what else Francis can do. Francis, an early enrollee, had a game-high 101 yards on 20 carries in UNC’s spring game.
“I was really pleasantly surprised at how quickly he picked everything up,” Fedora said.
Blue has the edge now, but it might just take all three to replace Bernard this fall.