CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The North Carolina fans that wanted a major overhaul in how the Tar Heels play football are going to like what they see this coming fall. Their wish has come true.
Gone is the pro style, run-first offense this program has mostly run for the last several decades. Even with the many miscues and snafus in Saturday’s spring game at Kenan Stadium, it was apparent that UNC football has moved from a seemingly plodding, clock-consuming approach to a fast break on grass.
The new spread offense is what new head honcho Larry Fedora prefers to coach, watch as a fan of the game, and he believes it’s how kids want to play these days.
“It is like a fast break offense, and I think everyone loves it,” said senior wide receiver Jheranie Boyd. “It’s definitely a challenge, especially coming over from what we did before, but it’s exciting as we get more and more into this system and see what it can do for us.”
Going from a pro style to a spread is quite a transition. The bodies of the offensive linemen must change. They generally need to get a little smaller, though Fedora believes significantly improving their condition is the top priority. He fine with it if they can carry their weight while increasing stamina.
It’s not just the pace of the actual plays once the ball is snapped that’s the key, it’s the pace in between plays. Imagine Clemson’s offense a year ago, that is what the Tar Heels staff is envisioning in Carolina blue in time.
In time because it’s not the case now, and it would be rather unrealistic to think North Carolina would be anywhere near that level and pace after just 15 spring practices. It probably won’t fully come together until perhaps 2013.
However, the Tar Heels have some workable parts that should fit the offense nicely.
Junior quarterback Bryn Renner isn’t the most athletic signal caller on the roster, but he’s smart, experienced and is quite talented. Renner has embraced the new system and as of now if the runaway lead for the starting job come September.
“I think what he’s doing is doing a good job of understanding what we’re trying to do,” Fedora said. “He’s still not there yet, but he’s made so much progress in a short period of time. He probably needs another 40 or 50 practices under his belt before he can feel comfortable with what he’s doing.
“But he’s made a lot of progress, I thought he checked the ball down today when he needed to and he distributed it where it needed to go, didn’t throw into coverage. So, all those things are big positives.”
Renner completed 23 of 28 pass attempts for 295 yards and two touchdowns. He looked uncomfortable more on running plays — mainly the handoffs — than on passing plays.
Redshirt freshman Marquise Williams came in highly touted and is a tremendous athlete. He has an arm, though on Saturday he wasn’t very accurate. It isn’t entirely fair to judge a player on how he plays in a spring game, but that Renner remained on the field through three quarters and Williams gave way to freshman Caleb Pressley in the second quarter says a lot about the quarterback competition. There isn’t one as of now.
Sophomore tailback Gio Bernard fits this offense perfectly. He only ran the ball five times for 36 yards — he left after suffering a gash in his head and could have returned — but the super-quick and fast back has every tool to be a huge success in this offense.
His backup, Romar Morris, a redshirt freshman, was almost as impressive. He’s quick to the hole, fast getting through it, and he’s shifty, maybe even more so than Bernard. But again, this was a spring game, so his 9 carries for 40 yards and 3 receptions for 35 yards and three total touchdowns should be taken with a grain of salt.
UNC has some receivers — T.J. Thorpe to name one — that can handle this offense, and the line is talented, though Russell Bodine, Brennan Williams a d Jonathan Cooper did not play Saturday afternoon.
Carolina is banned from playing in a bowl and from contending for the ACC championship this fall, so in a way it gets a free year to fully implement the news systems on both sides of the ball. It won’t be a series of 12 exhibition games like some have suggested, but the pressure won’t be as great as gunning for postseason accolades.
As of now, though, that’s not an issue. Learning something so drastically different will be this team’s primary focus for some time moving forward.