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Friday December 9th

Analysis: UNC heads into season with group of talented, inexperienced running backs

UNC sophomore running back D.J. Jones (26) resists a tackle during the first quarter of the Tar Heels' home football game in Kenan Stadium on Oct. 9 against the Florida State Seminoles. FSU won 35-25.
Buy Photos UNC sophomore running back D.J. Jones (26) resists a tackle during the first quarter of the Tar Heels' home football game in Kenan Stadium on Oct. 9 against the Florida State Seminoles. FSU won 35-25.

Over the past few seasons, the Tar Heels have relied on a strong running attack to open up the passing game for the wide receivers. With the season-ending injury of projected starter British Brooks, head coach Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Phil Longo must scramble to find a suitable replacement in the backfield.

After recruiting the position heavily in recent years, the team has a large group of intriguing young running backs that should have the chance to compete for the lead back role. Here's a look at what each of them can provide to the up-tempo offense.

D.J. Jones

Now a junior, Jones enters the season as the most experienced healthy running back on the roster.

The former three-star prospect came to UNC in 2020 but has had his development hindered from suffering injury setbacks for much of his time in Chapel Hill. He's still taken advantage of the limited touches he has received over the last two years and looks to play a significant role in this season's offense.

In 2021, he rushed for 253 yards on 60 attempts along with adding 12 receptions for 55  yards. A shifty runner, Jones is adept at avoiding tackles while still having the strength to power through defenders standing in his way. He will likely have a big impact as a veteran presence while the younger backs continue to get acclimated with the offense.

George Pettaway

Pettaway is one of the top recruits in UNC’s incoming class of first-years. At just under 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, he relies on speed and quickness to get past defenders. Although he will likely be eased into the offense, he will have the chance to earn significant touches as the season progresses and he continues his development.

Omarion Hampton

Hampton, a true first-year, is another highly-touted prospect. The Clayton, N.C. native was named the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year after leading Cleveland High School to an 11-1 record with 1,948 yards and 39 touchdowns on 161 carries as a senior. At six feet tall and weighing 220 pounds, Hampton is a large, bruising back that is capable of pushing through defenders and succeeding in short yardage situations.

Caleb Hood

As a first-year last season, Hood saw snaps behind starter Ty Chandler before an upper-body injury kept him on the sidelines for the latter half of the season. He played in seven games at running back and on special teams, tallying 97 rushing yards on the season and scoring a touchdown against Virginia.

If Hood can remain healthy this season, he will be another option with valuable in-game experience that could translate to increased snaps.

Elijah Green

Green was used sparingly last season, but he did appear in five games at running back and on special teams. He tallied 39 yards on 11 carries as a redshirt first-year, with his best game coming against Duke when he rushed for 21 yards.

The Tar Heels enter the season with a mix of talented underclassmen that are unfamiliar with the offense and upperclassmen that haven’t gotten significant playing time in their time at UNC. While many questions linger about who will take charge, the coaching staff will likely continue to evaluate its options throughout the season to help the team rebuild from a subpar 2021 campaign.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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