ACC Football: UNC picks up the pace
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina’s spring workouts under new coach Larry Fedora are focused on more than installing new plays and formations.
It’s about first teaching the Tar Heels how to practice with an intense go-go-go philosophy — which quarterback Bryn Renner described as a “culture shock.”
“We’re gradually making some strides but we’re our own worst enemy right now,” said Blake Anderson, UNC’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “We’ve got a mistake on every play by somebody. You’d like to shorten the learning curve but it’s reality.
“We’ve changed systems completely — the way we do things, the way we practice, the tempo we want to do things — and it’s just going to be a grind.”
The Tar Heels have a week left before their spring game to wrap up their first set of workouts under Fedora, who had spent the past four seasons at Southern Mississippi.
Two former Salisbury Hornets, Romar Morris and Darien Rankin, will be redshirt freshmen.
When the team opened spring drills on March 14, Fedora said he hoped to get about 70 percent of his no-huddle playbook and schemes installed during the 15 practices. But the bigger emphasis was getting the players accustomed to that faster pace, which is the foundation for everything the Tar Heels do going forward.
In that first practice, it meant having one offensive unit run up to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball. Then, at the whistle, that group quickly cleared out as another unit ran up to the line and did the same thing.
On and on it went, leaving players with little time to catch their breath. By the fourth practice, Fedora said of his players: “I think their heads are smoking right now.”
By the midpoint of spring drills, Fedora saw some progress — and wanted more.
“They’re starting to understand what we expect,” he said, “but we’re not even close to being there yet.”
To Renner, at least, the players are starting to figure things out.
“I think we’re getting a lot better and just accustomed to the tempo and style Coach Fedora wants to play,” he said. “I think everybody would say the first week was a culture shock because we weren’t used to it.”
Running back Giovani Bernard said the players were often “still gasping for air,” but it’s forcing them to get in even better condition. He also prepared by watching a lot of film of Fedora’s offense at Southern Miss to absorb as much as he could early.
“You don’t want to be thinking while you’re out here because your mind’s already out there trying to catch some air,” Bernard said.
Anderson said it’s clear the majority of UNC’s players he works with on offense “have the right answers” as to what they’re supposed to do, a sign they’ve spent plenty of time studying film. But they’re still working to do it on the practice field and build confidence.
Last season, Southern Miss ranked 17th nationally in total offense with 461 yards and 14th in scoring at nearly 37 points per game. The Golden Eagles didn’t just throw the ball, either, averaging 205 yards on the ground.
Anderson said a target is to run 80 plays and be ready for the snap as soon as the official sets the ball. Yet despite that pace, the Golden Eagles sustained drives well enough to rank in the top half of the nation’s Division I teams in time of possession (30:14) during Fedora’s tenure, according to STATS LLC.
Those past successes offer plenty of cause for optimism for the Tar Heels when they show up for preseason camp this summer. Everything starts with how fast they can get the basics down now.
“They’ve done a good job studying,” Anderson said. “But the hard part, the only way to get confidence is to rep it, live with bodies flying around and do it wrong some and learn from mistake sand go back and watch what you did wrong and try not to do it again. We’re going through that and that growing pain is not fun.”