UNC opens second spring session under Fedora
North Carolina players had their names taped to their helmets during the first days of spring practice a year ago so that they could be identified by the new coaching staff.
Those nametags were gone Wednesday as UNC started its second season under Coach Larry Fedora.
“You know the guys’ faces; you know their names,” Fedora said. “And they know what to expect from us, and I think that’s big.”
The Tar Heels lost ACC leading rusher Giovani Bernard and three starters off the offensive line, while the defense graduated two first-team All-ACC players in linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams.
But after going through a full year in Fedora’s system, the Tar Heels already have a head start this time.
“The first practice last year at this time, it was total chaos,” Fedora said. “These guys understand what’s going on. There’s nobody wondering where they’re going from one drill to the next. They know. There’s a comfort level there, so they can really focus on getting better.”
UNC will practice 15 times this semester, culminating in the spring game on April 13 at 3 p.m. Those practices include two open scrimmages, March 28 at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte and April 5 at Grimsley High School in Greensboro.
The Tar Heels finished 8-4 in 2012 but were banned from postseason play because of NCAA violations. That meant UNC also couldn’t take advantage of the extra practices that bowl-bound teams get in December, which Fedora said made these upcoming practices even more important.
He was pleased with the energy that his players showed Wednesday.
“They understand the tempo we want to practice at, and they understand what effort is,” Fedora said. “They know that when that ball’s snapped, for the next four to six seconds we have to go as hard as we can. We’re not having to coach effort all the time. Now we’re coaching technique.”
The players said there was a huge difference between a year ago and Wednesday’s workout.
“Last year, I can just remember all the coaches, they yelled probably the most they ever yelled because nobody really knew what to do,” sophomore running back Romar Morris said. “Today was great. Everyone was just flying around.”
Second-team All-ACC tight end Eric Ebron and Jordan graduate T.J. Thorpe are among the nine Tar Heels who will not participate in spring practice because of injuries, a UNC spokesman said.
Ebron set the school record for receptions by a tight end, while Thorpe led the ACC in kickoff return average as a freshman before missing the 2012 season with a foot injury.
The other injured Tar Heels are linebacker Darius Lipford, safety Darien Rankin, running back Travis Riley, wide receiver Reggie Wilkins, tackle T.J. Leifheit and linebackers P.J. Clyburn and Jeff Schoettmer.
Senior running back A.J. Blue took snaps with the first-team offense, though Morris and Hillside graduate Khris Francis also got plenty of reps in what Fedora said was an open competition.
Bernard also led the NCAA in punt return average, and there are plenty of willing replacements there, as well. Morris, cornerback Tim Scott, safeties Tre Boston and Sam Smiley and wide receiver Kedrick Davis were among the candidates who practiced catching punts Wednesday.
“Guys realize what Gio was able to accomplish and how that’s going to help his career,” Fedora said. “So now guys are saying, ‘Hey, I want to be in there.’”