Fedora looking to build on promise of first year at UNC

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A year ago, North Carolina head coach Larry

Fedora was taking over a team that he knew very little about — only

what he was able to glean during a short spring practice. He knew their

numbers, or some identifying trait about them, but not everyone’s names.

And he certainly didn’t know what everyone on his roster was capable of

doing.

“We know everybody’s names. That makes it a whole lot

easier,” Fedora said. “When I say that, I mean we actually know what

kids can do. We know what their strengths are, their weaknesses are and

we can continue to work on their weaknesses and try to improve their

strengths. But it is much easier than it was at this time last year.”

Everything

is easier for Fedora’s Tar Heels as they enter Year 2. And yet it’s

harder, too. Last year, with a postseason ban and new schemes on both

sides of the ball, there weren’t any expectations.

But Fedora

instilled an attitude in that team that there were no free passes, and

they should play the season like they could actually win the Coastal

Division title. They did, and they “did” (the postseason ban meant the

ACC voted not to recognize UNC for winning a three-way tiebreaker for

the regular-season Coastal crown).

Since UNC played as if it was

eligible for the postseason a year ago, there’s been no change in

attitude or expectations, according to Fedora.

“We haven’t even

addressed that, not once, since last season. So is there a different

atmosphere? I’m not going to really say there is, because it’s not

something we’ve talked about,” Fedora said.

“I think last year

was good for us. I think it made guys really dig down and figure out why

they play the game. I think that’ll carry over to this year. I think

they all know what’s out there, but it’s not something we’ve talked

about as a team.”

As Fedora has gotten to know his team, though,

he’s past the point of installing his up-tempo offense or making the

best with what he had a year ago on defense. He’s now able to push his

best players and mold them a bit more in his image, helping them become

the players he thinks that they’re capable of being.

Junior tight

end Eric Ebron was a preseason All-ACC choice, and it was a pretty easy

one. He had 40 catches for 625 yards a year ago and averaged nearly 21

yards per reception, but he only had four touchdowns. Fedora has decided

Ebron should score at least 12 this year.

“That’s what I expect

from him, and I hope he expects it from himself. He doesn’t have to get

any more than 12, but he’s got to get 12 for me,” Fedora said. “What he

does beyond that is for him, but he’s got to get 12 for me. There’s no

reason with his talent that he can’t produce more than what he did last

year for us, and that’s critical.

“You try to take his game to

another level, it’s not about just catches; it’s not about just blocking

at the point of attack. It’s about ‘Hey, when you get the ball in my

hands, I want you to get the ball in the end zone. I don’t want you just

to pick up the first down. I want you to get the ball in the end

zone.'”

Sophomore wide receiver Quinshad Davis, like Ebron, had a

breakout year. But also like Ebron, he didn’t score enough for Fedora’s

liking (just five times). Quarterback Bryn Renner spread out his

touchdowns among quite a few receivers, including his tailbacks, so it’s

not necessarily bad if a receiver didn’t have ten or more scores last

year.

But Fedora said that a lot of the failure to score was a

lack of strength, or maybe even will, at times. In the offseason, he

showed Davis tape of him getting tackled inside the 5-yard line. It

happened way more than either he or Davis cared to remember.

So Davis has put on weight and strength, while Ebron grins happily and nods when asked about his 12-touchdown goal.

“You

want to take your game to another level, let’s get the ball in the end

zone. Don’t be denied,” Fedora said. “It’s just each kid, what can I

find to motivate that kid to get him to push his game to the next level?

That’s one thing with Ebron — you didn’t get in the end zone as many

times as you ought to. The type of player you are, let’s go. Let’s don’t

underachieve. Let’s overachieve.”

Now, Fedora is just trying to

figure out the right way to motivate his defensive guys. And once he

does, the sky is the limit for this UNC team. The Tar Heels are going to

score points, although their offense could get a little crisper.

But

the defense was a problem last year, which Fedora readily admitted.

While the rest of the team showed progress as the year went along, the

defense oftentimes seemed to be going backwards as the year wound down.

“At

that point, you’ve got a situation where I think there was probably a

little bit of a confidence problem. It all goes down to overcoming

adversity and just eventually stepping up and saying, ‘Hey, enough’s

enough and we’re going to do things and get it done.’ We probably didn’t

do that in some situations on the defensive side of the ball,” Fedora

said.

And so at practice, he’s motivating that unit collectively.

He’s reminding the older defensive backs that they need to mentor the

young and talented players behind them. And he’s giving the defense as a

whole numbers and goals to live up to in practice.

“We obviously

want to cut down on the big plays that we gave up last year and we want

to create more turnovers. Those two things have been a point of

emphasis,” Fedora said. “For the defense, it’s how many turnovers can

you create? How many balls can you knock out? How many can you return

for (a touchdown)? All those things, and we keep track of all that in a

practice.

“Those guys know — I guarantee you, throughout the

entire practice, they know what those numbers are. They may not say it

out loud, but they know. If you ask them, they could tell you. And they

know what they need to do before a practice was over with.”