Renner and Bernard: UNC’s dynamic duo ready to enter new territory

Renner, Bernard look to set more milestones in Fedora’s new offense

acarter@newsobserver.comSeptember 1, 2012 

  • By air and by ground Last season, UNC’s Bryn Renner and Gio Bernard became just the third set of ACC teammates to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season.
    Year Team QB Yards RB Yards
    2011UNCBryn Renner3,086Giovani Bernard1,253
    2002N.C. StatePhilip Rivers3,353T.A. McLendon1,101
    2001Ga. TechGeorge Godsey3,085Joe Burns1,165

— Bryn Renner knows the history behind Larry Fedora; the offenses Fedora has coached and the records some of those offenses set. But Renner, the North Carolina quarterback, had been unaware of his own place in ACC history.

Renner threw for 3,086 yards a season ago, and Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard ran for 1,253 yards. The last time an ACC quarterback and running back duo returned after such productive seasons was in 2003, when N.C. State’s Philip Rivers and T.A. McLendon came back following a 3,000-yard passing, 1,000-yard rushing season.

“I did not know that,” Renner said earlier this week when told that he and Bernard formed just the third duo in league history to reach those milestones.

Renner and Bernard represent the constants amid an offseason of constant change. Fedora arrived in January, and with it so did his up-tempo, no-huddle spread offense, which UNC will debut at Kenan Stadium on Saturday against Elon.

The transition from a pro-style offense came with plenty of questions: Would UNC have enough depth at receiver? Would the players be conditioned enough to run it at Fedora’s pace? And how would Renner and Bernard, the two keys to UNC’s offense last season, fit into a radically different scheme?

Some answers will begin to emerge Saturday. Renner said earlier this week, though, that he already has an understanding of how Bernard will fit.

“I dare to say that he could look better than he did last year,” Renner said. “As far as him fitting into the offense, he’s not the biggest guy, so him getting more lanes to run in, without many guys in the box – I think that’s what’s going to help him out this year.

“Last year, everybody kind of knew we were running the ball, and when we were running it. But this year, he’s going to catch balls out of the backfield, he’s going to be a more complete back.”

Renner and Bernard have grown close, in part because they play such prolific roles and also because they were roommates during camp. That gave Bernard an opportunity to teach Renner about speed, which he could use in Fedora’s spread.

Renner played through a persistent ankle injury in 2011, but still threw 26 touchdown passes. In seven games, he threw for at least 250 yards. But to perform in the spread, he knew he had to become faster – mentally and physically.

He had surgery in the offseason and is now as healthy as he has been in years, he said.

“Him being my roommate, I think I kind of give him a little advantage,” Bernard said with a smile. “I help him out here and there … the speed rubs off kind of thing.”

But then Bernard grew serious, and spoke of the change he has seen in Renner.

“You can see he’s out there, he’s not worried about it,” Bernard said. “I think that last year, he was worried about his ankle, but now he’s just excited and ready to go.”

This is the fifth time Fedora installed his offense. Each time, Fedora had to teach a new quarterback new concepts.

“He’s as far along as any of them,” Fedora said of Renner. “He probably has more physical talent than all the others and I would say mentally he’s as far as along as any of them at this point in his career.”

Renner said he is “light years” ahead of where he was when he began to study Fedora’s offense. When spring practice began, he still wasn’t completely healthy, and he admitted he tried too hard to seem as if he grasped the new concepts.

Outside of the annual spring scrimmage, in which Renner played well in stretches, he said he practiced poorly.

“I was terrible during the spring – as far as just health-wise, trying to get the playbook down,” Renner said. “It was a transition for me.”

Since then, Fedora has been impressed with Renner’s progression. Now healthy, Renner has shown a competent running ability, too. He worked with Lou Hernandez, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, who helped Renner become quicker and more agile. Renner often joined the Heels’ receivers for conditioning work.

“Bryn will be the first one to tell you that he’s not where he wants to be yet and I’ll sure as heck tell you that,” Fedora said. “But he has come a long, long way. We’re constantly talking. The two things that I talk to him most about, at this point, is taking care of the football and managing the game. That’s it.”

Fedora has also made it clear “the offense is only going to go as far as he’ll take us.” Told of Fedora’s comments, Renner said, “I kind of welcome it.”

Renner will work behind an line that should be among the ACC’s best, and alongside Bernard, who also caught 45 passes last season.

“It’s like when you walk into a new classroom – you’ve got new desks and stuff,” Bernard said. “Everybody just has that new feeling. It’s so new, and this change … we’ve been embracing it and now it’s up to this point, Sept. 1. We’re ready to show this change.”

The question is whether defenses will be ready for UNC. Fedora hopes not.

After spending the past month practicing against it, Sylvester Williams, UNC’s senior defensive tackle, issued a warning.

“I’ll just say one thing for anybody in the ACC or to anyone else we play – just be in shape on defense,” Williams said. “Because they’re going to be coming.”

If the offense is as successful as Fedora hopes, Renner and Bernard could become the first ACC duo to pass for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in consecutive seasons. Though Renner said it was far too early to think about such things, he knows Fedora’s history.

“We were looking forward to playing for him, because we know what his resume is like,” Renner said. “And we know if we do what we’re capable of, it will all take care of itself.”

Carter: 919-829-8944

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