Who's Gone Chatter Fueling Chip In Heels' RB Room
Possessing a chip on one’s shoulder can be a hindrance or it can be fuel. That depends on how processes it, especially when it’s fed by aggravation.
North Carolina’s running backs room is going through that right now. Sam Howell, the Tar Heels’ ballyhooed quarterback, says the group is anxious to show the football world what they can do because they’re tired of everyone talking about who the Heels lost and not at all about the collective potential of the current group.
That’s fair, but so is the perceived disrespect, or rather uncertainty. It isn’t as if Carolina lost average players from last season. Not even close.
Mack Brown’s program is gearing toward the 2021 campaign without the services of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, both of whom are making millions in the NFL now and generating quite a buzz in their respective training camps. Behind them are a collection of green backs and an experienced grad transfer, and they’re tired of hearing the constant chatter about the guys who left.
“That running back room, they're so hungry,” Howell recently said at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte. “They're hungry every single day. They're competing with each other. They all have a chip on their shoulder because everybody is talking about Michael and Javonte. They have a chip on their shoulder, excited to go out there and show what they have, so I'm excited for them.”
To offer full perspective here, what exactly did UNC lose from its talented dynamic duo in the backfield?
Carter finished his career as the fourth all-time rusher at UNC with 3,404 yards, and over the last two seasons he carried the ball 333 times for 2,248 yards and 12 touchdowns, plus he caught 46 passes for 421 yards and four scores over the same span. Carter eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark each of the last two falls, as well.
In 2019 and 2020, Williams ran the ball 323 times for 2,070 yards and 24 touchdowns along with catching 42 passes for 481 yards and four touchdowns. That’s 656 carries for 4,318 yards, 36 rushing scores combined with 88 receptions for 902 yards and eight TDs just over the last two falls.
Together, they averaged 6.6 yards per attempt together over that span, as well. So yeah, of course people are talking about them.
“You lose Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, you lose a lot of your offense,” Brown said. “They were tough, smart, they could catch, they could block. But they protected the ball. That might be the most important thing they did over two years.
“I think we lost six fumbles in two years. That kind of goes unnoticed unless you're fumbling. But it's really, really important.”
Hence, the reason Ty Chandler was on the only player from the transfer portal that made his way to Chapel Hill this past offseason.
In four years at Tennessee, Chandler ran for 2,046 yards and 13 touchdowns, plus he caught 58 passes for 465 yards and three scores. Furthermore, he ranks fifth all-time in Volunteers’ lore in all-purpose yards. Not to mention some other needed intangibles he brought into the room.
“With Ty Chandler, he was recruited by Tommy Thigpen who (is) on our staff, coached by Robert Gillespie,” Brown said, noting two UNC assistants who were at Tennessee when Chandler arrived in Knoxville, though Gillespie has since departed Carolina. “So, when he went into the portal, we knew how good he was. He's 210 pounds now I think, he's fit in with our team really, really well. He's having fun. He had a really good spring.
“Since he's had four years of being physical, being hit by Tennessee and Alabama – I mean by Georgia and Florida, Alabama, Auburn, we didn't beat him up this spring. We talked a lot about him.”
But Chandler can’t do it alone. He needs D.J. Jones, Elijah Green, Josh Henderson, Caleb Hood and company to find ways they can help the Heels. One or two from the group must emerge and fill spots in the pecking order. And recognizing this reality is not an issue. It will more be a matter of simply doing it in the fall, beginning with the opener at Virginia Tech on Sept. 3.
“They certainly know the situation and the role they have to fill,” Howell said. “But like I said, all those guys in the running back room and the receiver room, they have a really big chip on their shoulder. They're kind of tired of everyone talking about who we lost instead of talking about who we got coming in this year.
“They've worked so hard. It's been a good challenge for me try to get those guys developed into the players we want to see this fall. They've done a really good job of that. They've worked so hard.”
Most definitions of having a chip on the shoulder skew toward the negative, thus it might be counter-productive after a while. So perhaps it has served as fuel which, according to the Webster’s Dictionary means, “a material from which atomic energy can be liberated especially in a reactor.”
Release date for this group is Sept. 3 in Blacksburg.