Giovani Bernard‘s decision to declare for the NFL draft may have been a great personal decision for the running back, but it left a major hole in the backfield for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Head coach Larry Fedora is looking for some way to offset the lost production that Bernard gave him running the football, catching the ball out of the backfield and returning kicks. He likely won’t find any single player as the answer and will likely lean on the combination of A.J. Blue and Romar Morris in 2013.
He could do a lot worse. Blue and Morris finished No. 2 and No. 3 in rushing last season behind Bernard and each showed some nice flashes of ability. Blue, at 6-foot-2, 215-pounds, is more of a bruising, between the tackles back who can churn out the tough yards. He rushed 82 times in 2012 for 433 yards and scored nine touchdowns. In his first start of his career against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Blue broke the 100-yard mark for the only time in his career and could do so several times during his senior season in 2013 as he gets a much heavier load.
Morris, on the other hand, is a much smaller back at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, but he brings excellent speed and burst and an ability to catch passes out of the backfield. He will make a fine complementary back to Blue on third downs or passing situations while also adding some flash to the return game. Last season, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry as he gained 386 yards on the ground with a pair of touchdowns while catching 12 passes for 204 yards and scoring another two touchdowns. He’ll be the lightning to Blue’s thunder as a one-two combination for the Heels next fall.
While neither will likely get to the same level that Bernard was at individually, the pair of them together should give Fedora plenty to work with in 2013. The combination of Blue and Morris will carry the North Carolina running game next season and give them one of the best running back tandems in the ACC.