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UNC Football Position Previews: Running Backs

Is the starting running back job Ty Chandler’s to lose?

North Carolina Spring Game Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Last season, the duo of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams combined for one of the best rushing attacks in program history. The two running backs set records for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Williams broke the UNC records for scoring in a season (132) and total touchdowns in a season (22). His 19 rushing touchdowns tied Don McCauley for the program record.

Carter set the Carolina record for rushing average for a season (7.98), while Williams earned the second spot with an average of 7.26 yards. Carter and Williams were part of a prolific offensive unit that made its mark on the UNC record book.

Last year’s team set the program record for most yards gained per game (537.2), highest average gain per play (7.6), most scored per game (41.7), and the single game record for yards gained (778).

In that 62-26 statement win over no. 10 Miami, Carter and Williams combined for 544 yards rushing, accounting for nearly 70 percent of the offensive production in that record-setting game.

The Tar Heels lost a lot of production from the backfield with this pair heading to the NFL. Now, we must ask, “who’s gonna fill their shoes?”

In the Orange Bowl, UNC fans received a glimpse of 2021 with Carter and Williams sitting out. British Brooks earned his first collegiate start at running back against Texas A&M, and Josh Henderson had his most work at running back since the end of the 2019 season.

Carolina struggled on the ground in the Orange Bowl. Even with a flash of brilliance from Brooks on a 17-yard scamper early in the game, the limited production from the backfield was concerning for Tar Heels looking ahead to 2021.

That outlook changed in early January with Ty Chandler’s transfer to UNC. The Tennessee transfer led the Volunteers in rushing in 2018 and 2019, and finished his four-year career in Knoxville with the fifth-most all-purpose yards in program history.

With Chandler taking advantage the COVID-19 transfer rules and the additions of four-star Kamarro Edwards and three-star Caleb Hood, the running backs roster is set for 2021.

2021 UNC Running Backs

Number Name Height Weight Year Hometown and High School
Number Name Height Weight Year Hometown and High School
4 Caleb Hood 5-11 230 Fr. Rockingham, N.C. / Richmond Senior
19 Ty Chandler 6-0.25 210 Gr. Nashville, Tenn. / Montgomery Bell Academy/Tennessee
21 Elijah Green 5-11.5 205 R-Fr. Roswell, Ga. / Blessed Trinity
23 Josh Henderson 5-11.25 215 Jr. Pennington, N.J. / The Hun School
24 British Brooks 5-10.5 210 Sr. Gastonia, N.C. / Ashbrook
26 D.J. Jones 5-10.5 205 So. Fayetteville, N.C. / Pine Forest
33 Kamarro Edmonds 5-11.5 230 Fr. Havelock, N.C. / Havelock

Last season, Carter and Williams providing the perfect combination of outside rushing and receiving and power between the tackles. With the success of that dual running back strategy, will the coaching staff try to provide that type of balance in the backfield?

Chandler and Henderson provide that Carter-esque versatility, while Brooks and Hood can pound the ball. At Tennessee, Chandler lost his starting spot last season, but still had a productive year with 456 yards rushing, four rushing TDs, and 111 yards receiving.

For his career, he gained over 2,000 yards rushing with a 4.9-yard rushing average. Chandler pulled in 58 receptions for 465 yards, good for 8 yards per catch.

Head coach Mack Brown had this to say about Chandler at the ACC Kickoff:

We think he is kind of the guy that fits between Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. A 210-pound back, he can run it up inside. Tremendous hands. He knows what to do, but he also has the speed that when he gets it in space he has a chance to score. We’ve got to find some other guys with him, but we think he has a chance to step up and be a special player for us.

Based on Brown’s statement, the assumed running back depth chart has Chandler in the starting spot. Just by looking at collegiate experience, Brooks and Henderson are in the spots below. Yet, with so much inexperience after Chandler, it is hard to determine right now how the depth chart will end up.

As training camp begins, will a healthy D.J. Jones make a push for that backup role? He was previously listed as the third running back option before a foot injury last season. By all reports, his foot surgery in December 2020 was successful, and he is rehabbed back to 100 percent.

Hood had the most impressive spring from any of the new comers, and his physical game will be something to watch as training camp progresses.

Elijah Green had limited action in three games last season and redshirted. But a year learning the system is always a positive.

With all this talent, can Brooks find a way to earn significant action at running back? Brooks was the 2020 Special Teams MVP and special teams captain. Will he remain in that crucial role on special teams? He is a heart and soul player, but he could provide some punch on the offensive side of the ball when the situation arises.

Carolina has quality, but inexperienced, depth at running back. This kind of depth provides a safety net for replacing production when those inevitable injuries take place.

If Chandler lives up to expectations, the pressure will be reduced on whoever ends up behind him on the depth chart.

If a sophomore or freshman takes a majority of backup snaps this season, the program is building for the future in the best way possible.

Stay tuned to Tar Heel Blog throughout training camp. The running back situation is a major storyline to follow as September 3 quickly approaches.