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August 20, 2011
"Yes, I get by with a little help from my friends, with a little help from my friends." -- The Beatles.
Few quarterbacks at Carolina have debuted to more expectations than red-shirt sophomore Bryn Renner will when he takes the field against James Madison on Sept. 3 at 3:30 p.m. at Kenan Stadium.
Renner is frequently compared to no less than former all-pro Brett Favre.
The fact remains, however, that Renner will be making just that: a debut. He has stood and watched until now. So he will need some help from his teammates to enjoy a successful transition to college ball.
"It's going to be a different atmosphere and a different defense than high school," Renner said.
He is advertised as an athletic QB capable of running, but it is too early to make a definitive statement, he said.
"It's yet to be seen at the college level," Renner said. "At the high-school level, I could run a little bit. But I didn't get under center in high school. We threw it every play, and I had the freedom to throw it or run it. I wouldn't say I'm a speedster. I really don't know what I am because I haven't played a college game yet."
The area in which his teammates can help him the most is sustaining a strong running game. The potential is there for UNC to have one of the better offensive lines in the conference and maybe even the country. Now those guys must produce.
They are big, athletic and most have experience. They understand their job is to keep Renner on his feet and make some room for the different running backs carrying the ball.
"[A new QB] makes the offense more contingent upon our play," offensive guard Jonathan Cooper said. "As an offensive line, you like that when the offense leans on you to produce."
A successful running game will force safeties and linebackers to honor play-action.
"Trying to be an ACC quarterback, I think it will be a pretty big learning curve," Cooper said. "But I feel like he'll have the cast around him. If we establish a running game and are not always dependant on the passing game, I feel like he can do very well.
"I feel like with him throwing the ball, he'll gain confidence. And with us being able to run the ball, he will not have to make all the decisions all of the time."
Ryan Houston is first in line to carry the ball. He is recovering from a broken collarbone that he suffered in the spring game, so the coaching staff has been cautious with him in the preseason.
"You like for your running backs to take some pounding, but we trust Ryan," head coach Everett Withers said. "Really, we trust all those guys. We're getting enough work out of all those guys to feel comfortable game week."
The offensive line has immense faith in what Houston can do.
"A guy came to me and said, 'I know it's hard blocking for him because you make a good block and he only gets 4 yards,'" Cooper said. "But I told him, 'Yeah, but you make a bad block, he'll still fall forward for 4 yards.'
"He has power and finesse," Cooper said. "He may not be a homerun hitter, where he'll take it 60 yards, but he will get you 25, 30 yards on a big run."
Two years ago, which is the last time Houston played in a game, he assumed the role as the No. 1 back midway through the season and basically saved the team with his production.
Although he is still a big player at 6 feet 2, 245 pounds, he is leaner and more agile than at any point in his career.
Giovani Bernard is a compact, athletic back. He must prove he can be durable enough to play at this level. He suffered a season-ending knee injury last year, and he has already broken a broken bone in a hand this year.
The guy who may emerge as the newest star in the backfield is former quarterback A.J. Blue. Blue suffered a season-ending knee injury two years ago.
He is healthy and making the transition from QB to running back. The biggest change for him is securing the ball. A running back has to carry it tucked tight under his arm; whereas, a quarterback often runs with the ball in hand, looking to throw until that is no longer an option.
His teammates all say what a special Blue athlete is. The few carries he got two years ago before hurting his knee revealed a player with sensational moves.
"A couple of springs ago, we saw A.J. Blue at running back, and, wow," Withers said. "As head coach, I'm glad we get the opportunity to move him back. I'm excited about him. He is a ready to go every day. We have to slow him down because he's so excited to be able to help this football team."
Blue's teammates say he can run with power after working hard in the weight room.
Now if all these guys can come together effectively, Renner may be able to realize his great potential sooner rather than later.
"We understand we have to give the quarterback time to throw," offensive left tackle James Hurst said. "If the quarterback throws the ball, our receivers are going to catch it and make big plays.
"We understand that, and it starts with us. We want that pressure. We're excited."