North Carolina Football

UNC begins spring practice seeking to pick up where it left off

acarter@newsobserver.comMarch 5, 2014 

— 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 it’d be difficult not to look good.

“They always look good at this time,” Fedora said. “But they’re a little big-eyed right now, too, because it’s a different tempo than they’re used to. They all have skills. All five of them have skills and they will get better as we go.”

That’s 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 weren’t eligible to compete in a bowl game at the end of Fedora’s first season, and so this is his first opportunity at UNC to try to carry postseason success into the offseason.

“It’s 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.

That’s 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 UNC’s 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 that’s why I think they’ve taken advantage of the opportunity. They’ve gotten themselves here early and they’re 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 UNC’s 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.

“He’s going to push me, I’m going to push him,” Williams said of Trubisky. “That’s the main thing. We’re out here to do the same things – to be the first string quarterback, and I love the competition.”

Williams said he hasn’t spoken with Trubisky about their competition.

“We don’t really chatter about that,” Williams said. “We probably chatter about what we’re going to eat after practice and stuff like that more. We don’t want to make it too hard on ourselves.”

Switzer confident he’ll 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 he’d 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.

“I’m going to get the record, the all-time record,” Switzer said. “I’m three away – or excuse me, four away from breaking it, so I’m really not worried about that. It’s 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 that’d be something else.”

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

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service