Short-handed UNC hopes camp adjustments work for Cal opener
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina has known throughout the preseason that it would be shorthanded for much of the opening month of the season, with 13 players facing suspensions for secondary NCAA violations.
The Tar Heels will soon find out how well they’ve prepared for that challenge, starting Saturday at California.
The school announced the suspensions for players selling team-issued shoes on Aug. 6 , days after the team opened camp to prepare for the cross-country trip to Cal. Eleven players’ suspensions begin this week, some for as many as four games, though that group largely features rotation players and walk-ons. There also are injury concerns for starting defensive tackle Aaron Crawford and tailback Michael Carter that could further hinder the Tar Heels’ depth.
“We didn’t go into (preseason camp) being surprised,” coach Larry Fedora said Monday of preparing for the suspensions. “We knew what was going to happen. We knew when guys were going to be out, so we started putting together a plan then. And we were able to work the plan pretty well through camp. … I think it’s been good. Now, we’ll see on Saturday if it was a good plan or not.”
The team spent the first days of preseason drills giving reps to everyone as it installed basic offensive and defensive schemes. The plan then was to begin paring back the reps for players facing suspensions after an intrasquad scrimmage in favor of those needing to get ready for the opener.
The highest-profile player suspended is quarterback Chazz Surratt, who was expected to compete against Nathan Elliott for the starting job but instead will miss the first four games. That will give Elliott — who started the final three games last season — the chance to seize firm control of the starting job while Surratt sits out.
“I always like quarterbacks having to compete, always, until they have really separated themselves,” Fedora said. “So on this situation, the separation came quickly, so he knew he was going to be the guy. So now it’s not like ‘I’m competing for my job’ as much as ‘I’m competing to lead this football team.'”
Fedora didn’t publicly release a depth chart in his first game-week news conference of the season. He said he hasn’t settled on the No. 2 quarterback, with the options being senior Manny Miles and true freshmen Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder.
Asked about the status of Crawford and Carter, Fedora responded with his standard answer: “I don’t talk about injuries.” The school hasn’t publicly specified the nature of their injuries.
While Carter ran for a team-best eight touchdowns last year, the Tar Heels at least have depth at the position to handle his likely absence. Top rusher Jordon Brown (613 yards, four touchdowns) is back, while UNC is adding Ohio State transfer Antonio Williams — a former four-star in-state recruit who originally committed to the Tar Heels.
Fedora wouldn’t name a starting tailback, saying Brown, Williams and true freshman Javonte Williams would likely share carries against Cal.