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UNC Football: Positional Preview: Running Backs

The crystal ball is fuzzy for this position group.

ACC Championship - Clemson v North Carolina Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Five running backs are returning for the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2023, and it is presumably a wide-open competition for snaps.

There are plenty of returners in the backfield, but new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey may be the variable that makes the running back competition so intriguing.

Despite his focus on quarterbacks and the passing game, Lindsey has produced strong ground attacks throughout his career. Last season as UCF’s offensive coordinator, the Knights ranked eighth in the nation in rushing at 236.1 yards per game. UCF went for 200 yards on the ground nine times last year. Another notable rushing year was in 2017 in his role as Auburn’s offensive coordinator. That was the first Tigers team to rush and pass for 3,000 yards in a season.

At the top of the depth chart are Elijah Green and Omarion Hampton, while British Brooks and Caleb Hood look to get back into the mix as injuries derailed their 2022 season.

Green rose through the depth chart last season to start the season’s final six games. He led the team in rushing touchdowns (8) and all running backs in rushing last season. He totaled 608 yards on the ground, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Green is quick and is a north-south runner. One of his most important on-field factors is his ability to stay healthy.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 SDCCU Holiday Bowl Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hampton is a power back that gained 464 yards on the ground and tallied six rushing touchdowns last season. One of the points of emphasis for Hampton in the offseason was the ability to break tackles. His size and speed are unique, and adding some yards after contact will help his snap count.

North Carolina v Duke Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

One of the best stories of last season was derailed before a snap was played. Brooks, a former walk-on, got a glimpse of the action in the Orange Bowl to close out the 2020 season and proved what he could do with 124 yards against NC State in 2021 on just 15 carries. Unfortunately, he blew out his knee during last year’s training camp. In his fifth year at Carolina, Brooks knows what it takes to compete, as evidenced by his Special Teams MVP awards in 2020 and 2021. One of the most striking characteristics is his patient running style which allows the blocks to develop in front of him. Will that be enough to make a dent in the rotation?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Georgia State at North Carolina Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Heading into 2022, Caleb Hood was marked as a back that would take a lot of snaps. Hood started four games last season before a season-ending injury during UNC’s eighth game. Another power back, Hood has the ability to break tackles and find holes. If Hood can stay healthy, he will certainly be a back that will be looked to in the red zone.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 01 Virginia Tech at North Carolina Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

George Pettaway returns for his sophomore season and may have the most growth potential out of any running backs. The 2022 early enrollee faced a big gap from high school to college, and it will be interesting to see his progress this season. Pettaway fits nicely in this mix with his acceleration and distance running. If he can bounce outside and be that Michael Carter type runner, he can be a part of the mix.

North Carolina v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

In a sense, the crowded backfield is a good problem with the injuries that have plagued UNC in recent years. Head coach Mack Brown continues to talk about depth issues, so it is nice to have options.

But when it comes down to 3rd and one during the second half of a game in November, who will be the guy?

2023 UNC Running Backs

Number Name POS. Height Weight Year Hometown / High School
Number Name POS. Height Weight Year Hometown / High School
4 Caleb Hood Running Back 5-11.5 225 Jr. Rockingham, N.C. / Richmond Senior
21 Elijah Green Running Back 5-11 210 Jr. Roswell, Ga. / Blessed Trinity
23 George Pettaway Running Back 5-10 195 So. Suffolk, Va. / Nansemond-Suffolk Academy
24 British Brooks Running Back 5-11 225 Gr. Gastonia, N.C. / Ashbrook
25 Kellan Hood Running Back 5-10.5 190 R-Fr. Rockingham, N.C. / Richmond Senior
26 D.J. Jones Running Back 5-10.5 200 Gr. Fayetteville, N.C. / Pine Forest
28 Omarion Hampton Running Back 6-0 220 So. Clayton, N.C. / Cleveland
34 Jordan Louie Running Back 5-10.25 215 Fr. Tuscaloosa, Ala. / Meadowcreek (Ga.)