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Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Butch Davis talks running backs

By Heather Dinich

Despite the recent injury to tailback Ryan Houston, North Carolina coach Butch Davis said Houston has what it takes to be an every-down back this season.

Ryan Houston
North Carolina coach Butch Davis is confident running back Ryan Houston, shown here in 2009, will be his starter this fall.
"Absolutely," Davis said in a phone interview this afternoon. "I believe that. I think that early in his career when he was threatening at 265, 270 pounds, that in and of itself probably dictated as to the way he was going to have to be used, but over each of the years, he's gotten that weight down. He wants to be an every-down back. It's important to him and he's worked hard at it. He's shown in the spring he can be an every-down back, that you don't have to just rely on him to be the four-minute offense guy and the goal-line guy. He's headed in the right direction."

Davis said Houston, who was the team's leading rusher in 2009 but redshirted last season as an eventual result of the NCAA investigation, currently weighs 238 pounds. He'll have surgery tomorrow for a fractured scapula, but Davis said UNC's medical staff is confident they "can fix it," and "he'll be back and ready to go for the season."

There's no question UNC needs Houston, as it lost three key players from last year's roster, but there is depth at the position. Experience? Not so much. Giovani Bernard was expected to see some playing time last season as a true freshman but tore his ACL on the third day of training camp. Hunter Furr played sparingly last season, and true freshman Travis Riley, who enrolled in January, is also a potential contributor. Davis said it's been "all learning" for Riley this spring, but that he's strong and has good running instincts. Bernard was able to do about 75 percent of what the staff asked him to do, with the exception of full-speed, live scrimmages.

"There's probably going to be more diversity in that group than maybe we've had in previous years," Davis said. "Each one of them has uniquely different skill sets. Obviously Ryan is a big, strong, powerful, very good power runner. He's worked very hard at getting faster and quicker by losing weight and catching the ball. Hunter Furr, he got a significant amount of opportunities because we lost the three guys who played a lot in previous years. We got little glimpses of some of the things he did in the Florida State game. He's got some really good instincts, he's got some speed, and like everybody else he's got a lot of things he has to continue to work on. Giovani Bernard, we're excited about getting him an opportunity."