Defense Edges Offense in Scrimmage

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina completed its first full scrimmage in the seventh practice of spring ball on Wednesday.

** Head coach Larry Fedora termed the practice session as a "typical scrimmage in the spring" during his media availability following practice. UNC scrimmaged for a portion of last Friday's practice and the offense emerged feeling like the victors. That wasn't the case at Navy Fields on Wednesday.

"There were some good things and there were some bad things on both sides of the ball,' Fedora said. "I thought the defense came out on top today… They showed that they wanted it more today."

The scrimmage ran for a full two hours at game speed with the ones playing the ones and the twos playing the twos. The initial projection called for the scrimmage to consist of 140 plays. For reference, scrimmages during the Butch Davis era typically included 60-65 plays.

Media was permitted to watch roughly 25 minutes of the scrimmage and the offensive explosions were at a minimum. Running backs Gio Bernard and Romar Morris had a handful of solid runs and backup quarterback Marquise Williams broke free up the middle on a read option play. The defense countered with a Travis Hughes sack from his linebacker position and a forced fumble in the backfield by safety Darien Rankin.

Rankin and cornerback Kameron Jackson added interception returns for touchdowns and cornerback Terry Shankle picked off Williams in the end zone near the conclusion of practice.

** When asked how the offense was progressing, offensive coordinator Blake Anderson answered with a big grin.

"We're not very good right now," he said. "I say that with a smile, because it's expected. It's early; we've had seven days of reps with a brand new system. We're piecing in guys at lot of positions. We have a few injuries that we'd rather not be dealing with right now, but we're not very good, but we'll get there. It's just going to take some time."

In terms of pace of play, Anderson indicated that his goal is to run 80 plays per game. He wants his offense ready to play as soon as the official sets the ball, which typically takes 8-12 seconds between downs.

The Tar Heels are "not anywhere close" to either of those numbers right now, according to Anderson. But that's expected and almost by design as the installation of schemes and plays is secondary to the coaching staff's primary focus this spring – adaptation.

"The X's and O's will come," Anderson said. "As we continue to repeat them and work the drills, they'll come. It will take a while. But the effort and the tempo that we want to play, and just the intensity level – our expectations are different because of how we operate and the energy it takes to operate between the plays and communicate between plays.

"We've got to get that down to where we can do it with confidence before the X's and O's really become the focal point."

** Plenty of attention will be paid to the Bandit position – a hybrid defensive end-linebacker role – over the next eight months. Senior Dion Guy manned the spot with the first-team unit on Wednesday, followed by junior Curtis Campbell and sophomore Norkeithus Otis, but the players indicated that they weren't aware of a depth chart.

Guy and Campbell both described the position as being 60 percent defensive end and 40 percent linebacker with the current schemes in place.

"It's more end, if anything, than linebacker," Guy said. "You rush the passer constantly but then sometimes you drop [into coverage]."

Campbell is a new name in the mix after starting spring ball at Ram, which is a hybrid linebacker-safety position.

"Last week I was playing Ram, so I was manning up slot receivers and now I'm bull rushing offensive tackles, so it's been a real big change for me," Campbell said.

The Chesapeake, Va. native started at Ram as an experiment and moved to Bandit as another experiment.

"I guess I'm going to ride the train until it stops," Campbell said.

Campbell had previously played safety and linebacker during his career at North Carolina, but noted that he had never put his hand down before moving to Bandit.

"I've got the linebacker part down and the coverage part down, but it's really just holding the edge against bigger guys and getting my hands inside," Campbell said.

** While the no-huddle approach and rapid offense style promises plenty of points, there is also the potential of three-and-outs that leave the defense with little time to rest on the sidelines. UNC's new offensive coordinator, however, didn't seem too concerned about that possibility.

"I haven't given it a lot of thought because we've felt like we were going to stay ahead of the chains," Anderson said. "We didn't have a lot of three-and-outs. I don't have an exact number for you, but we're conscious of the defense. We've always been one of the teams that's top-10 or top-15 in the country in time of possession."

Southern Miss did rank 13th nationally in time of possession in 2010 (32:19), but that was the exception, not the norm. The Golden Eagles ranked 41st in 2008 (30:41), 83rd in 2009 (29:08) and 86th in 2011 (28:52).

Even so, the coaching staff leans on its rushing attack to control the clock and help protect its defense.

"If they've had a long drive, we have to make sure that we get a good drive started and be conscious of the play-calling, when to be risky, when not to be risky," Anderson said. "The ability to play fast is not the ability to play careless."

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