Morris, Blue each score TDs in UNC spring game
A.J. Blue and Romar Morris will get the first shot at replacing do-everything tailback Gio Bernard in North Carolina's backfield. Yet freshman Khris Francis was the runner who stood out most in the Tar Heels' second spring game under Larry Fedora.
While Blue and Morris each scored touchdowns in the Blue team's 34-10 win Saturday, Francis ran with burst and power for a White squad dominated by freshmen and sophomores. Francis, who enrolled midyear, finished with 101 yards on 20 carries in a sign the Tar Heels will have plenty of options as they try to replace the NFL-bound Bernard.
"He made major strides," Blue said of Francis. "He did very well. He held onto the ball, he ran hard, he always got tackled going forward. That was great to see. That lets us know we've got depth at our position now."
Francis, who played in high school at nearby Durham Hillside, broke free for a 24-yard run on the second play of the scrimmage against a team featuring defensive regulars from the two-deep depth chart.
"It's hard to get him to talk but he's listening all the time and he takes coaching very well," Fedora said. "What he does a nice job of is, you can say something, and he can take it to the field immediately and make it happen."
Blue and Morris thrived in bigger roles when Bernard was out with a knee injury early last season, and the two closed spring drills side-by-side atop the depth chart.
Morris had a big performance in last year's spring game with three first-half touchdowns. This time, the rising sophomore scored the game's first touchdown on a 2-yard run early in the second quarter and finished with 80 yards on 15 carries.
Blue, a rising senior, had a quieter day on the ground with 30 yards on eight carries. But he scored on a perfectly executed screen pass, taking the short toss from Bryn Renner and racing down the left sideline for a 33-yard score midway through the second quarter.
Fedora said neither Blue nor Morris "stepped out and said, 'I'm the guy'" during spring, while Francis sits behind them on the depth chart. And things could get even tighter when T.J. Logan — The Associated Press player of the year for North Carolina after running for 510 yards and eight touchdowns in a state championship game — joins the mix when training camp gets rolling in August.
Francis didn't sound worried about that competition.
"Right now I'm just trying to make sure I have everything understood — the playbook, trying to get my conditioning up," Francis said. "I noticed that after a couple of plays of running, I'm sucking for wind. We're going to need all of us to get through the season because of the fast tempo. I can't wait."
Renner also hit Sean Tapley in stride over the middle for a 48-yard TD that gave Blue a 21-3 halftime lead. Renner finished 16-for-27 for 216 yards and three scores with one end-zone interception in the first half.
Bernard made an appearance on the field during the first quarter to be honored by the College Football Performance Awards as the nation's top punt returner in 2012. He averaged 16 yards per return and returned two for scores, including a 74-yarder in the final seconds to help the Tar Heels end a 5-year losing streak to rival North Carolina State.
The Tar Heels also honored Jeff Saturday on the field during the second half. The two-time all-Atlantic Coast Conference performer under Mack Brown and Pro Bowl center recently retired after a 14-year NFL career.
Also Saturday, the Tar Heels unveiled new uniforms for next season at halftime, including a black helmet and uniform combination with blue letters and numbers for the Thursday night home game against Miami in October — which the team is promoting as "Zero Dark Thursday."