Probable Starter: Greg Little
Key Reserves: Ryan Houston, Devon Ramsay, Jamal Womble, Shaun Draughn, Anthony Elzy, Bobby Rome, Rameses the Ram, Ramses the Dude in the Costume, Usain Bolt, Anrdei Arshavin, Bear Grylls, Chancellor Holden Thorp, Chinese Badminton sensation Lin Dan, Lego Steve Nash, Ben Mauk (6th Year of Eligibility), Ronnie McGill (8th year of eligibility)
Overview: Up until the post-Mack era, the Tar Heels were synonymous with a powerful rushing offense. Carolina tailbacks rushed for 1,000 yards 24 times between 1969 and 1997, and UNC had at least one 1,000 yard rusher for 12 consecutive seasons (1973-84).
In the Torbush/Bunting era, however, the best rushing season came from Chad Scott in 2004: 796 yards and 8 TDs. 2007 was near rock bottom: 107th in the nation at 99.5 pards per game, no one broke the 400 yard plateau, and no player established himself as the feature back. If Carolina has any hope of living up to the preseason hype, they’ll need far more support from the backfield.
Fortunately, Greg Little may change that. Little moved from wide receiver to tailback well into the season, and he was placed into the starting lineup against Georgia Tech and Duke. In those two games he rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries, including 154 against the Blue Devils. With his performance at the end of 2007 and in camp, Little is going to start at tailback for the beginning of 2008. He has even said that his goal is to rush for 1,000 yards this season. While he does necessarily need to move mountains, he should certainly help make the offense more balanced.
Little’s place is fairly secure, but every other carry is up for grabs. Anthony Elzy, who rushed for 351 yards, is being moved to a fullback/H-back role. Both Johnny White and Richie Rich are switching to defensive backs. That leaves Ryan Houston as the incumbent, having rushed for 152 yards on 44 carries in his freshman year. He is much more fit this season than he was in 2007, which almost certainly means better production in 2008.
Then we reach into the unknown, the freshmen. Devon Ramsay is a 6-2, 240 pound redshirt freshman from Lawrenceville, NJ, who ran track in high school. So we can surmise that the guy has both size and speed, but that’s about all we know. Jamal Womble is a highly touted true freshman from Arizona who stands at 5-11 and 215 pounds, runs a 4.5 40, and rushed for 1,787 yards, 20 TDs, and over 10 yards per carry in his senior year, all school records in Sierra Vista. Again, we know his amazing potential, but not much else.
The most interesting story in this RB battle has been the emergence of Shaun Druaghn, whom I already like if only for the fact that his name rhymes. He was recruited as a safety, but also played QB and tailback at Tarboro High. After spring practice he asked coach Davis for the opportunity to play at running back in fall camp. He was given a significant share of practice carries while Houston has been banged up and Womble has learned the offense, and he has done nothing but impress. By August 30th, Draughn could be the 2nd tailback on the UNC depth chart.
Outlook: Little will definitely be a stable influence at the running back position, but depth is still an issue. Up to five tailback could have an impact this season, and we still have little idea who emerge as the #2 option. The running back position is Carolina’s biggest question mark heading into the season, and the answer will in all likelihood determine for far the Tar Heels can go in 2008.
(Draughn Photo: Tar Heel Blue.)