CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina opened spring football practice Monday with a sense of purpose.
The Tar Heels' spring game will be televised by ESPN on April 10, and then there's the season-opener against LSU, a giant step up from the Football Championship Subdivision opponents they have opened with in the first three seasons under coach Butch Davis.
"We're going to have to have a great spring practice just to put ourselves in position to do really well," Davis said, adding the Heels' second game of the season is against ACC champion Georgia Tech.
Not that there wasn't any fun Monday. Davis called the 15 practices in spring the best time to learn and to have fun. To that end, the quarterbacks had drills Monday throwing at stacked garbage cans, and the special teams practiced blocking punted soccer balls.
Senior quarterback T.J. Yates noticed a different attitude for the Heels, who have 22 seniors back from an 8-5 team.
"Everybody had extremely high energy, and we were flying around," Yates said. "It was a good day."
It was also the first day for Yates, a three-year starter, to be pushed by freshman quarterback Bryn Renner. The job belongs to Yates, Davis said at the beginning of March, but Renner will be given an opportunity to unseat the veteran.
"I know Bryn is going to do absolutely everything he can to steal that job from me, and I welcome it because it's going to make us both better in the end," Yates said.
Renner, who also plays on UNC's baseball team, will be "100 percent" with the football team until April 10, Davis said. The coach likes Renner's athleticism, but the freshman needs experience.
"He's got an awful lot to learn," Davis said. "And he's got an awful lot to prove."
With 19 starters back from last season, there aren't too many new faces for UNC. Freshman tackle James Hurst, who enrolled in January, worked with the first-team offense at left tackle.
Running back Ryan Houston, the team's leading rusher (713 yards) and scorer (nine touchdowns), did not attend practice Monday because of an academic conflict.
Several injured players returned to practice, with running back Shaun Draughn (shoulder) cleared for full participation. But tackle Carl Gaskins (left knee), safety Matt Merletti (right knee), tight end Ryan Taylor (knee) and guard Alan Pelc (left shoulder) were available on a limited basis.
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