Nine Practices In

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina completed its final practice before Thursday's open scrimmage at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, N.C. Head coach Larry Fedora and various Tar Heels addressed the media following the ninth session of spring ball on Monday.

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** Fedora radiates positivity, but makes it clear that this football team is nowhere close to where it will be months, if not years, from now.

"We got better today," Fedora said. "We were able to work on some four-minute situations and some two-minute situations, so we're starting to at least get a small grasp of what we're trying to do on offense, defense and special teams. We've still got a long way to go."

That last sentence has served as a constant disclaimer in Fedora's conversations with the media during the past month. He provided some more insight into that sentence when asked what it meant relative to expectations for the spring.

"We've made miles of progress, but we've got a long way to go," Fedora said. "The three things that we still have to accomplish – we talked about it again today – when we come out of spring in about four more practices, everybody has to understand our base offense, defense and special teams. Everybody's got to understand the base.

"We've got to learn how to practice, and we still haven't learned how to practice. We're a long way from practicing the way we're going to practice, the way we have to practice to be able to win on a consistent level. And then we've got to figure out who all of the players are. We can't figure out who the players are when they still don't know what to do."

During his message to the team following practice, Fedora stressed that he wants to see more energy and more enthusiasm from his players and that he expects them to play with a chip on their shoulder. Most importantly, he wants them practice the way they're going to play in a game.

The past three weeks have been intense for the players, but Fedora has no concerns of his roster hitting a wall.

"We're like babies out there learning how to crawl," he said. "You're not going to crawl into a wall yet. We've got a long way to go before we get even close to a wall. I can't see a wall."

** As for the scrimmage on Thursday, Fedora spoke of the benefits of a quasi-road game for his players during the spring while also providing UNC fans with a glimpse of Saturdays in the fall.

"I think it's a great experience for our guys, but at the same time, it enables our fans in the Charlotte area to be able to see where these guys are and what they've been doing this spring," Fedora said. "I'm looking forward to them getting to be out in front of a crowd. That's also a little extra motivation for them because they're actually practicing in front of a crowd."

When asked if a secondary reason for scheduling the scrimmage in Charlotte was due to the recruiting talent in that area, Fedora replied, "You said that, I didn't."

** Todd Harrelson provided a spark at punt returner early last season, returning four punts for 38 yards in the first two games. He was also showing some potential as a reserve cornerback after spending his initial two seasons in Chapel Hill at wide receiver.

The 6-2, 195-pound Chesapeake, Va. native was then suspended indefinitely on Sept. 17 for violating team and University rules. Former interim head coach Everett Withers confirmed on Nov. 14 that Harrelson was no longer on the team and intended to transfer.

But when the new coaching staff arrived in December, the rising senior contacted Fedora and scheduled a meeting to plead his case for reinstatement. Fedora agreed.

"Coach Fedora just told me to forget about my past and just make sure that I did everything right and make sure I'm a team player for this upcoming season," Harrelson said. "I'm just glad he let me back on the team."

Harrelson told on Monday that the transition back to wide receiver has been smooth and that he feels more like an athlete on the offensive side of the ball. The new offense has also brought back memories of Harrelson's high school days playing in a spread offense.

UNC recruiting fans may remember the Oscar Smith H.S. product churning out 354 yards and three touchdowns on 15 receptions during the Division 6 state semifinals.

"The spread offense that Coach Fedora is bringing in allows us playmakers to have enough space to make plays for the offense, so it gives us a lot of chances to put up points," Harrelson said.

The biggest difference between the pro-style offense and Fedora's spread attack? The tempo.

"It's tough, man," Harrelson said. "The first two weeks, it was gruesome. The tempo can drive a person crazy, but right now, I'm pretty much used to it. It still gets you tired every practice, but once the games start, we'll be way more conditioned than the opposing teams."

** Here's something that opposing teams don't want to hear: sophomore running back Gio Bernard has worked on becoming more elusively dangerous in UNC's new spread look.

"We've definitely worked on my speed a little bit because that's something that I want to work on, getting out into the open field and breaking longer runs," Bernard said. "That's something I want to stress a little bit more in my game, being a big threat from anywhere on the field."

Bernard told reporters that while no longer running behind a full back is "different", his focus continues to be on reading the defense to see what they're giving him, not on who's in front of him.

And although UNC has only spent nine practices in the new offense, Bernard has already seen a potential for more playmaking opportunities in space than the previous offense provided.

"This is something that I stress – you can't let that first person take you down," Bernard said. "With this offense, I think it gets you with that first person, and with my philosophy, it leads you to a better path. So far we've done a great job of getting me one-on-one with guys… So far, so good, so we're excited."

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