With Ryan Houston and Giovanni Bernard being held out of contact due to injury recovery, the starting role in practice now falls to A.J. Blue who hasn’t played in a year due to his own recovery process.
“My freshman year I felt like I could make cuts and nothing would happen to me and I’m getting back to that. I feel good about that.
“It definitely took a lot of time,” he explained about getting comfortable with his knee. “When I was on the scout team last year I would try to shake but it wasn’t working like I wanted it to work. But I definitely feel stronger about it this year.”
The Gastonia native also has to make the transition to playing running back after being a signal caller since he arrived in Chapel Hill.
“That’s basically all I worked on was pad level,” he said. “It’s such a big transition from being high and tight and looking for receivers verses staying low and trying to make it through holes.
“I’m fitting in all different kinds of roles: goal line, middle of the field, backed up to the goal, they are pretty much just trying to get me prepared for anything and any role. I think my other biggest transition has been in pass protection. To go from dodging pass protection to making contact with it and being physical.”
Blue is also seeing snaps with the first team because of injuries to Houston and Bernard but he said it’s not as glamorous as one might think.
“It’s definitely a big jump,” he said. “It’s not as exciting as you might think. You want to gain the trust of the coaches and you want to let them know that you can be first team. That you can go in a game and they can trust you to make a block or a read.”
A big help to Blue has been the guidance from senior Ryan Houston who’s father actually grew up playing high school football with Blue’s father unbeknownst to either of them until the arrived at UNC.
“I think his seniority gave him a leadership role,” he said. “Him being here for so many years and being a big time player for us at points and hopefully this year too. I think it’s definitely been an influence on me. Just the ways you have to fit blocks and look at film I think he’s been a big influence on me.”
“I think it was visa versa to what we were. My dad was the running back and his dad was the quarterback when they played together. We didn’t know they were friends until we got to Carolina.”
And projecting to the future of just getting back on the field, Blue explained that he’s more than ready to put the past behind him.
“It’s immeasurable, let’s just put it that way,” Blue explained of the excitement he’s feeling to get back in a game. “Yesterday I was watching Adrian Peterson and all of those guys highlight reels. And with me just making the transition from quarterback to running back those are the kind of guys I need to watch. I’m somewhere around 6-2, 220 to 230 which is close to around AP’s size. I’m not as fast as him but he’s explosive and everything he does I want to mimic. When I get out on the field I just want to run hard and not think about anything else when I’m out there.”