Today’s featured team: North Carolina Tar Heels
The Tar Heels’ spring practice preview couldn’t have had worse timing, really. While first-year head coach Larry Fedora will continue to implement his system, the NCAA’s ruling yesterday to ban his team from the postseason obviously looms large. Postseason aside though, Carolina’s offense alone should put them in line to contend for a Coastal Division championship they’re ineligible to win. As much as they’ll spend the spring trying to replace star receiver Dwight Jones, this team is built for a balanced, high-powered attack, even without the assumed first-round pick. In his first season as a starter last year, quarterback Bryn Renner racked up over 3,000 yards to go along with 26 touchdowns. In his own first season of college football, halfback Giovani Bernard recorded 1,615 total yards and 14 scores. So irregardless of who else participates, UNC should be okay as both players progress. That said, it’ll take some additional consistency from the running game outside of Bernard too, especially reserve A.J. Blue. Passing-wise, Brenner will spend the spring targeting seniors Jheranie Boyd and Erik Highsmith, who are both capable targets ready to pick up the slack for Jones’ departure.
Defensively, the Tar Heels graduated a lot of talent, and in exchange, they must now insert inexperience and hope it starts to click early this spring. Of the six returning starters from this unit, only two are seniors. And with positions seemingly up for grabs all around, anything could happen between now and August. Specifically, they’ll put looking to fill gaps on the defensive line and the secondary — apparent strengths last season that now look to be free-for-alls of unproven skillsets and a steep learning curve. For all the hype surrounding the 2011 group though, it’s debatable how good they really were; which is what makes the competition for the 11 starting spots so intriguing. Comparing UNC’s returning starters to their ACC counterparts last year, just Kevin Reddick and Tre Boston stand out, and neither of them even placed among the top 25 in the league in tackles — or top 10 in any other category for that matter. In fact, the group as a whole was unspectacular, as they allowed nearly 25 points per game (seventh in the ACC), placed 10th in passing defense and just seventh in overall defense. Looking for help in the incoming recruiting class, it’s chock-full of linebackers, all of whom will log a fair amount of time on the bench this spring and fall. As for the aforementioned positions where they’re seeking some help, they’ll need some of their three-star recruits to out-perform their arbitrary ratings (not beyond the realm of possibility).
While last year’s team may have leaned on its defense and athletes like Quinton Coples, the 2012 Heels are likely to overly rely on their offense. Renner has weapons at his disposal, and given the versatility Bernard has shown in both the run- and pass-games, his involvement in gameplans should grow steadily this season. Tight end Eric Ebron tweeted that UNC will be “killing” every team they face, in spite of the allegations. Even if they fall short of that goal, it should be an entertaining season ahead.
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