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April 6, 2011With North Carolina losing Shaun Draughn, Anthony Elzy, and Johnny White from its offensive backfield, there's little doubt that somebody is going to have to step up and perform at this position for the Tar Heels.
This spring season has been all about building depth in the running game---a group that consists of players like Ryan Houston, Giovanni Bernard, incoming freshman Travis Riley, and rising junior Hunter Furr.
"I think it's going to be more of a 'running back by committee' thing like last year," said Furr, who had five carries for 29 yards in limited rushing duty in 2010.
"Ryan, he's obviously the leader of the group. So he's been out there and doing really well this year. Gio is quick too. Gio is looking good."
"Travis has come in and he's learning really fast also. So I think it's going to be all of us contributing in different ways from each other," Furr added.
Coming out of high school Furr was well known for his elite speed, which was among the best in the entire state of North Carolina in the Class of 2009.
Since he got to Carolina, it's been all about gaining physical strength and learning the necessary plays and blocking schemes.
"Physically I've gained 10 pounds. I've gotten a lot stronger," he said. "My speed has gotten a little bit better, but mainly (I've improved) mentally. It's just ID'ing all the blitzes and the (opposing defensive) fronts."
"From when I showed up the first day to now, I'm 100 percent better mentally than I was when I showed up," Furr added.
"You can learn the blocking technique. It's more like what blitz they're going to come at in this formation. It's a lot more studying tape---Coach (Ken) Browning has been big on that."
Furr credits last year's group of senior running backs for helping him acknowledge the significance of film study, and now this group of UNC backs has carried that into this year.
"Last year the seniors helped me study a lot of tape in case I had to go in there, but me and Ryno will sit down with Gio and we'll watch some film together every now and again," Furr said.
Along with adding strength and learning the plays, another big area of development for Furr over the past couple of years has been developing more cutting and shifting to elude potential tacklers.
Known as more of a 'straight-line' type of a rusher in high school, Furr has really worked hard to improve his movement.
"I think I've just become a better running back. In high school I think I was kind of more of a 'straight line' kind of 'one cut and go,' and I think my moves have gotten a little bit better since I've been here too," he said.
Furr admits that last year's win at Florida State---in which he had several very important carries for the Tar Heels on its game-winning scoring drive after White injured his shoulder---has been a major source of confidence throughout this spring season.
"It was only a couple of carries (against FSU) but I think anytime I get out there and get more experience running the football at the college level, it's better. In high school I had a lot of carries, but I haven't really had a lot since I've been here," he said.
"Anytime I can get into a tackling situation it helps a lot. It is (a confidence boost) just to get out there and see what I can do, because sometimes in practice we'll just be full-tempo, where they just hit us and wrap up."
"(In the game) It's more like see if you can break tackles and if you can make a move on the safety when they (the offensive line) get us there. That's the big confidence booster," he added.
Furr believes the Tar Heel offensive line has improved by leaps and bounds, and that's going to make everybody's job in the backfield better.
"We're looking pretty strong right now. It's just opportunities for everybody to get better," Furr said. "I think we're looking good out there. Our strong point is our O-line. Our O-line is coming together really well."
Furr also gave credit to a couple of guys who are going to be go-to players for the UNC offense in 2011.
"You've got some veteran receivers. Dwight Jones is looking great," he said.
"And Bryn (Renner) is kind of taking the team under his hand too, and is looking good."
Now that he's in position to be a major component of North Carolina's running game, Furr isn't looking backwards.
The depth issues at running back gave him a chance a year ago, but now with most of those players gone, it's time to step up in a whole different way.
"I never look into the past, at what could have been. We had a great season last year and we came together well. And we're just moving forward each day trying to get better," he said.
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