Big changes loom as UNC opens football practice

acarter@newsobserver.comAugust 2, 2012 


UNC's Larry Fedora will implement a spread offense and multi-schemed defense for his team. UNC football coach Larry Fedora watches his players work out on their first day of Spring practice on Wednesday March 14, 2012 at Navy Field in Chapel Hill, N.C. The Tar Heels are preparing for their Spring football game on April 14, 2012.


CHAPEL HILL — Larry Fedora began his tenure at North Carolina with a promise to bring an up-tempo, energetic style of play that would lure both spectators and recruits to Kenan Stadium. Fedora and his coaching staff began installing their system in the spring, and the installation will continue when the Tar Heels begin practice Friday.

Under Fedora, whom UNC hired last December, the Tar Heels will move from the pro-style offense they used under former coach Butch Davis to a quick-paced, no-huddle spread. Defensively, UNC has adopted a 4-2-5 defense that Fedora believes will allow for more versatility.

Here are five questions UNC faces entering the official start of the preseason, which will culminate in its season-opener Sept. 1 against Elon:

1. How quickly will the Tar Heels adapt to the new offense?

Fedora spent much of spring practice demanding a faster pace in all areas, but especially on offense. When one play ends, he expects a seamless and quick transition to the next play.

UNC’s new offense, led by Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson, is nothing like the previous pro-style schemes, and it will likely take a while for the Heels to fully grasp it. How quickly they do could determine the success of their season.

After the Tar Heels’ spring scrimmage, Fedora said he was pleased with the team’s understanding of the base offense. He’s eager to see how much the players have retained since then.

2. And how quickly will UNC pick up the new defense?

The Heels are transitioning to a 4-2-5 defense. The defensive changes are less drastic than those on offense, but it’s still a new system that features unfamiliar terminology.

Kevin Reddick, the Tar Heels’ senior linebacker, said recently that he and his teammates have embraced the new defense in part because of its aggressiveness. Vic Koenning and Dan Disch, who are working together as co-defensive coordinators, both believe in blitz-heavy play calling.

At least one defensive player is likely to blitz on any play. As expected, the defensive adjustment went more smoothly in the spring. Even so, Koenning said recently that the Heels only installed a bit more than half of the defense during the spring, which leaves a lot of work to be done in the preseason.

3. Will the Tar Heels have enough depth?

Fedora likes the depth he has at tight end, with a sophomore trio of Eric Ebron, Jack Tabb and Sean Fitzpatrick. But asked recently to name positions where depth is a concern, Fedora rattled off every other segment on the team.

Depth concerns are not uncommon for a first-year coach, but Fedora has good reason to be worried – especially given the system he’s installing. UNC’s attacking philosophy could cause players to wear down.

In addition, the new offense requires strong numbers at wide receiver, where three of the top five players are relatively unproven sophomores.

4. Is UNC in good enough shape?

Fedora recently praised Sylvester Williams, the senior defensive tackle, for improving his physique. Once “fat and overweight,” Fedora said, Williams went from 330 pounds to a more svelte – and mobile – 300 pounds.

Fedora used that example to demonstrate how his team has adapted to a new strength and conditioning program. During the spring, it was clear that the Heels weren’t in good enough physical condition – especially given the demands of the offense.

Lou Hernandez, the team’s first-year strength and conditioning coach, has worked to improve that.

“We really needed to get in shape,” quarterback Bryn Renner said. “After spring ball, I think everybody realized that we weren’t in the best shape to run this offense.”

5. Can Bryn Renner succeed in the spread offense?

Renner at times excelled in his first season as a starter, throwing 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns. But he’ll have to prove that he can succeed in a spread offense.

Not known for his running ability, Renner fits the mold of a more traditional drop-back passer. But he had success with a spread offense in high school, and he drew praise from Fedora throughout the spring. Renner also has spent plenty of time studying Fedora’s offense, watching film of Fedora’s system at Southern Miss.

Renner organized summer workouts with receives and other members of the offense.

“That’s the best time that we learn as players,” he said, “is when we have to hold each other accountable for knowing the system … we’ve accomplished a ton and just gotten a lot better in terms of handling the offense.”

Carter: 919-829-8944

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