Three questions as UNC spring football practice begins

acarter@newsobserver.comMarch 4, 2014 

North Carolina Larry Fedora will prepare his team for six home gamest at Kenan Stadium in 2014.

ROBERT WILLETT - RWILLETT@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

— North Carolina began the 2013 season with aspirations of winning the Coastal Division and playing for the ACC championship. Those hopes evaporated amid a 1-5 start, but the Tar Heels salvaged their season and finished with a winning record after a victory against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.

The Tar Heels are hoping the momentum they created toward the end of last season carries over through the start of preseason practice in August. For now, though, UNC’s focus is on spring practice, which begins Wednesday.

Here’s a look at the three primary storylines for spring practice:

Who are the new faces in new places?

UNC coach Larry Fedora has only been around for two seasons, but he has already experienced significant turnover among his staff. Blake Anderson, UNC’s former offensive coordinator, left in December to become the coach at Arkansas State.

Walt Bell, the Tar Heels’ former tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, joined Anderson’s staff at Arkansas State, and Randy Jordan, the former running backs coach, left to become an assistant coach with the Washington Redskins.

Fedora hired three coaches, including running backs coach Larry Porter and quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf, who had been a player development assistant at UNC. The most important of Fedora’s hires was Seth Littrell, who arrived from Indiana to take over as UNC’s offensive coordinator.

Littrell, who has plenty of experience leading up-tempo, no-huddle offenses, will be calling the plays. Spring practice will offer him his closest look yet at what he’ll have to work with in the fall.

Who replaces departed playmakers?

Eric Ebron, the tight end who gave up his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft, was UNC’s most effective offensive skill player last season, and James Hurst was as dependable as it gets at left tackle. Their departures create the largest void in the Tar Heels’ offense.

Jack Tabb is likely to replace Ebron as UNC’s go-to tight end, but it remains to be seen who will emerge as the team’s go-to offensive player. Quinshad Davis, the rising junior receiver, could become that player but so, too, could T.J. Logan, the rising sophomore running back.

The left tackle position, meanwhile, is wide open. Bentley Spain, an early enrollee from Charlotte, is probably talented enough to start from day one of his freshman season. The next several weeks will provide a good indication of whether he can seriously challenge for a starting position in August.

In the defensive backfield, several young players will vie for starting vacancies left by cornerback Jabari Price and safety Tre Boston, who intercepted 13 passes over the past four years.

The departure defensive end Kareem Martin represents UNC’s most significant loss on defense.

Will Mitch Trubisky challenge Marquise Williams for the starting quarterback job?

Williams should enter the spring as the clear-cut starter, and he played well after Bryn Renner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury early last November.

Williams passed for nearly 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns – along with six interceptions – while completing 58.1 percent of his passes last season. He also improved the offense with his ability to run.

Trubisky, though, impressed the coaching staff last spring as an early enrollee and entered preseason practice ahead of Williams on the depth chart. Had Renner been lost earlier in the season, UNC might have considered using Trubisky.

Williams has a hold on the starting job, but if Trubisky has a strong spring it would give Fedora something to think about entering the fall. Even if Trubisky remains the backup, expect him to receive some playing time. Fedora proved last season he’s not wary of a two-quarterback system.

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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