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July 11, 2012

Running in the spread

Much has been made of Coach Larry Fedora's spread offense since the day he was hired.

What many may not realize is that when Fedora talks about being wide-open and exciting, that does not mean throwing the ball on every day.

A 25-yard run is no different than a 25-yard pass completion. The object is to move the ball successfully, often and finish with touchdowns.

"I'll do whatever you don't care that I do," Fedora said. "Whatever you want to let me do, I'm going to do. I don't mind going run, run, run, run. I don't mind going pass, pass, pass, pass.

"If you're going to put people in the box to stop the run, we're going to throw it. If you're going to spread people out, we're going to run it. It's a pretty simple philosophy. So if someone wants to take away the run that is fine with me. I'm not going to beat my head against the wall."

One reason the Tar Heels will not be hesitant to run as well as pass, even as they flood the field with receivers, is the jewel Fedora and his staff saw for themselves in spring practice.

Giovani Bernard impressed them as much or more than anyone on the team. What this spread offense should do is provide Bernard and his linemen with some help in keeping the defense off the line of scrimmage.

With the talent the Tar Heels possess at wide receiver and the accuracy and arm quarterback Bryn Renner has, Bernard should find more creases to run through than at any time last season.

And remember, he has already proven what a quality back he is.

He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2011. He gained 1,253 to become the first 1,000-yard rusher at Carolina since Jon Linton in 1997, and he scored 13 touchdowns.

Not bad for a guy whom so many joke about his height.

Bernard said he just kind of hides behind all those 6-5, 6-6, 6-7, 300-pound linemen.

"I'm a smaller guy, and it gets me out on the field one-on-one with guys, the corners, the linebackers," Bernard said.

He explodes out of the backfield. Once he gets to open space, he does become a nightmare for linebackers and defensive backs.

"Gio, you can tell from day one, day two, day three, he's a natural football player," Fedora said. "It doesn't matter what style of offense you are running. You put the ball in his hands, and he can make some plays. He can do special things with it."

UNC also has a new runner who can keep Bernard from having to carry the ball too often and wearing down. If red-shirt freshman Romar Morris, a former state champion in the 100-yard dash, can stay healthy, he is going to do some special things as well.

Who knows, Carolina could turn out to have the best pair of running backs in the ACC this year.

Morris is 5-10, 180 pounds, but he appears thicker than that sounds when he's in uniform. He is explosive as well as being fast. He can catch the ball, too, which is huge.

He caught a TD pass in the spring game.

"Romar is getting more consistent," Fedora said. "He has got some acceleration. He's got some explosiveness. His vision is getting better. And the thing I like is he catches the ball really well. So we're going to be able to do some things with him."

If the passing game is as successful as it potentially can be, then it is not beyond possibility that UNC could have two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time since Leon and Curtis Johnson in the early 1990s.

"This whole new offense has opened everything up for me," Bernard said. "I think it opens everything up for everybody on offense."


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