- David M. Hale, College football
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Last year, North Carolina's ground game ranked 11th among ACC teams, and the leading rusher was a quarterback who spent half the season as a backup. But as the Tar Heels turned their season around down the stretch, the running game came alive, too. UNC averaged 5.1 yards per rush with 13 rushing touchdowns in its final six contests. Now, sophomore T.J. Logan and a deep contingent of tailbacks are looking to build on that success in 2014. We caught up with Logan to see how the backfield is coming together in Chapel Hill.
David Hale: Spring practice was a bit of a feeling-out process in the backfield. How's the summer been going for you guys?
T.J. Logan: We're real excited. We've got a lot of different backs with different types of running styles. It's going to be a great time in Chapel Hill.
TL: Yeah, it's going to be a committee. But with the type of offense that we have, guys are going to get tired. The guys on the sideline have to be ready, just be able to come in and have an impact on the game.
DH: How does that work for a running back? Obviously you want to get your touches, but it can also keep you fresh to have a good rotation going.
TL: We definitely have a lot of respect for each other. We're like brothers. Whoever's out there, we want them to do the best. Playing running back, you've got to be able to let things go. If Elijah or Romar [Morris] is out there, I'm cheering for them. I know my time is coming.
DH: You lost two starters on your offensive line from last year, and this spring there were a number of players hurt. How does that affect you guys in the backfield?
TL: It's definitely kind of hard when you don't have the guys you've been playing with or the guys you know are going to be out there with you. This spring, they've come back. We've gotten a better feel in team workouts, and it's getting better.
DH: You didn't play much the first five games of the season, but you really came on down the stretch last season. What did that experience do for you?
TL: It helped a lot. It gave me some confidence. But I'm not trying to lean on that. It's a new season, and you've got to come in and play your best football. But not playing at the beginning of the season, I think it helped me. I got to sit back and watch a couple guys like [A.J.] Blue and Romar.
DH: You mentioned Marquise Williams. When he took over at quarterback, the ground game seemed to improve, but he spent the spring battling Mitch Trubisky for the starting job. How does a QB competition affect the running backs?
TL: I feel like it really doesn't affect us as long as we're protecting. Any quarterback that plays is going to give us a chance to win. Either one of them is going to get the job done.
DH: Elijah arrived this spring with a lot of recruiting hype. What does he bring to the table for you?
TL: He's definitely bringing power to our backfield. We have guys like Romar and myself that are quicker backs. Khris [Francis] is well balanced. But Elijah brings the power to the bunch. When DBs have to come up and make tackles, they're going to have to adjust to certain guys like Elijah. And the change-of-pace with me and Romar in the game, we can run by guys.
DH: The numbers weren't great for the running backs last year. How did you guys view that performance? What does it mean for you going into 2014?
TL: Last year, we felt like we definitely could've done more. Marquise had more rushing yards than any of the running backs. As a group, we sat down and talked about it, and we feel like this is our year. We're going to take over. We've got a couple big names in the group, so we've got to live up to that.
DH: After finishing strong last season, are you excited to see where you'll pick up this year?
TL: As a team last year, we felt like we had something to prove. We got on a good foot near the end of the season, playing like a team. Now people are expecting us to come out and continue that, so I feel like that's what we're going to do.
DH: With so many running backs expecting to touch the ball, do you set goals for yourself or do you have goals for the group?
TL: I know my goals, that's about it. But everybody in the room has goals. We have a board now that shows different things like cut blocks and how many yards after contact. We're waiting to actually get out there and start filling that board up.
Last year, North Carolina's ground game ranked 11th among ACC teams, and the leading rusher was a quarterback who spent half the season as a backup. But as the Tar Heels turned their season around down the stretch, the running game came alive, too.