CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina began spring practice on Wednesday hoping to carry over the momentum it built toward the end of last season, but also searching for a new beginning, too.
There were new coaches three on offense and new players in new positions, including Tim Scott, a senior who has moved from cornerback to safety.
There were new players experiencing their first college practices. The five freshmen who graduated from high school early and enrolled at UNC in January look good, coach Larry Fedora said, smiling. He added that the team was practicing in shorts the implication that itd be difficult not to look good.
They always look good at this time, Fedora said. But theyre a little big-eyed right now, too, because its a different tempo than theyre used to. They all have skills. All five of them have skills and they will get better as we go.
Thats the hope, at least. The Tar Heels began last season with the goal of winning the Coastal Division, and of playing in the ACC championship. Then came losses in five of their first six games, followed by a late-season resurrection.
UNC won five in a row after its 1-5 start, and it finished the season with a victory in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati. The Tar Heels werent eligible to compete in a bowl game at the end of Fedoras first season, and so this is his first opportunity at UNC to try to carry postseason success into the offseason.
Its really important to try to just carry over where we left off, Fedora said. We were playing our best football as the year went on at the end of the year. And so we challenged them to be at that level when we stepped out here today and tried to get better from there.
The practice on Wednesday was the first of the Tar Heels 15 this spring, which will culminate in the annual spring scrimmage at Kenan Stadium on April 12. Even then, it will be difficult to judge how far UNC has come, and how many strides it has made.
Thats not likely to be known, for sure, until August or perhaps until the season begins. Fedora said on Wednesday that he was looking most of all for a mental command of the playbook. He was hoping his players had mastered the basics, at least.
To me it was a lot about seeing recall and how much time guys put in on their own preparing themselves for day one install, he said. And we had few mistakes out there today.
Players during the next month will compete for starting jobs, though Fedora avoided talking about those competitions in detail. Bentley Spain, a heralded offensive lineman from Charlotte and one of UNCs five early-enrollees, is among those who will compete to fill the void at left tackle, where UNC lost former starter James Hurst.
I think all five of them could help us, Fedora said of the early enrollees, a group that also includes heralded running back Elijah Hood, also from Charlotte. And thats why I think theyve taken advantage of the opportunity. Theyve gotten themselves here early and theyre working extremely hard.
Williams prepared to be challenged by Trubisky
Marquise Williams enters the spring as the clear starter at quarterback, but Fedora said that Mitch Trubisky, who redshirted last fall during his freshman season, would receive some work with the first team.
Trubisky was among the most prized members of UNCs 2013 recruiting class. Williams, meanwhile, perhaps exceeded expectations after he became the starting quarterback when Bryn Renner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last November.
Hes going to push me, Im going to push him, Williams said of Trubisky. Thats the main thing. Were out here to do the same things to be the first string quarterback, and I love the competition.
Williams said he hasnt spoken with Trubisky about their competition.
We dont really chatter about that, Williams said. We probably chatter about what were going to eat after practice and stuff like that more. We dont want to make it too hard on ourselves.
Switzer confident hell break return record
Ryan Switzer tied the NCAA single-season record with five punt returns for touchdowns during his freshman season last fall. His next goal: having the single-season record all to himself.
Asked what hed do for an encore next season, Switzer said, Probably go for six (punt returns for touchdowns), man.
Switzer needs half that many three returns for touchdowns to tie the NCAA record for most career punt returns for touchdowns. Wes Welker returned eight punts for touchdowns between 2000 and 2003 at Texas Tech, and Antonio Perkins, who played at Oklahoma, tied the record in 2004.
Im going to get the record, the all-time record, Switzer said. Im three away or excuse me, four away from breaking it, so Im really not worried about that. Its going to come.
My personal goal would be to get six in a season, because I want the record to myself. And if I get six next season, then I smash the record. So thatd be something else.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter