Spring Game Prep

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora and his players spoke to reporters following practice No. 12 as the team prepares for Saturday's spring game (3pm/ESPN3).

** Following North Carolina's initial spring practice on Mar. 14, numerous Tar Heels logged into their Twitter accounts to complain of aches and pains associated with the rapid-fire approach of their new coaching staff. Four weeks later, two days after a 170-play scrimmage that took roughly two hours to complete, the Tar Heels showed no signs of agony or sluggishness at Navy Fields.

Instead, the players and coaches shared an energetic approach to practice with an intensity level that is closing in on what Fedora expects to be the standard in the years to come.

UNC fans will get their first glimpse of Fedora's no-huddle spread offense and 4-2-5 defense at Kenan Stadium on Saturday.

The first-year Tar Heel coach made it clear that there is only two things that he hopes to accomplish with the spring game – to emerge without any significant injuries and to make sure his players have fun.

Fedora also provided some insight into how the game will break down.

"We'll start off and we'll just put the ball on the 35," Fedora told reporters following practice. "There will be no kickoffs or kickoff returns and then we'll play it like a game. We're going to play it. We'll split the team and we're going to play it. The only thing in the special teams area, we'll put a punter out there and a snapper and a return guy and that's it and wherever he catches it, that's where the ball is. Everything else we'll do just like a game.

"Second half we're going to run the clock. I understand there's going to be T.V. timeouts and everything involved so we're going to try to run it as close to a game as possible in the first half and then run the clock in the second."

** Speaking of injuries, while Fedora has avoided discussing the health of his players throughout spring practice, he told a few reporters following the media session that he expected everyone on the roster would be able to participate on Saturday, aside from the six players that have been relegated to "Lou's Beach" all spring – running back Travis Riley, fullback Devon Ramsay, linebacker Darius Lipford, placekicker Miller Snyder, deep snapper Mack Lloyd (w/o) and linebacker Shakeel Rashad.

Offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, who had surgery on his left shoulder on Jan. 18, took his first full reps of spring ball on Wednesday. The rising senior told InsideCarolina.com following practice that his status for Saturday was yet to be determined.

"I don't know yet," Cooper said. "I'll have to talk to the coaches and see how I feel. I got my first reps of spring ball today, so I don't know. We'll have to see."

Cooper indicated that he "was able to move pretty fast" once he took the practice field and that his teammates helped him with pointers in grasping the offensive principles.

IC reported last Thursday that linebacker Kevin Reddick had suffered a mild concussion on the previous Friday, but the rising senior returned to practice on Monday and will participate in the spring game.

** One highly rated prospect that has been sidelined by injury throughout his career at UNC has quietly made a return to health.

Red-shirt sophomore T.J. Leifheit, a four-star offensive tackle out of Wilmington, N.C., committed to North Carolina on Oct. 11, 2009. The very next day, the 6-foot-7, 325-pounder suffered a high ankle sprain in a bizarre scenario that involved a local television crew instructing his teammates to celebrate for a video clip.

That celebration led to a mass of high school football players falling on Leifheit and injuring his ankle. The injury never fully healed.

"After the initial injury, I had to have a couple of surgeries to get everything fixed completely," Leifheit said. "So it was more of a series of surgeries, not continually reinjuring my ankle, but one after another to get everything where it needed to be so that I could come out here and play like I am now."

Leifheit has dealt with the ankle issues for over two years, but after beginning spring practice in a limited contact orange jersey, he is finally back to full participation and is "close to 100 percent."

"It was pretty frustrating at first, but I definitely think getting through that adversity has helped me," Leifheit said. "Especially now with learning all of this new stuff, if I have a bad day, I can look at that and be like, ‘That's nothing compared to what I've had to go through.' So it was tough at first, but I was able to fight through it."

** While North Carolina's defensive scheme is termed a 4-2-5, the reality is that it's a diverse package that allows for a variety of options.

Leifheit described the multiple looks as containing "everything known to man."

** During the media portion of practice, reporters were privy to a competitive passing drill pitting the inside linebackers against the running backs.

While the running backs won the large majority of the matchups, linebacker Fabby Desir did manage to step in front of a pass to Romar Morris for an interception.

The play that drew the most attention was when red-shirt freshman Connor Gonet juked a linebacker up the middle for a touchdown. That pass play came complete with associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning slamming his hat to the ground, running backs coach Randy Jordan jumping up and signaling a touchdown and Gio Bernard meeting Gonet up the field for a celebration.

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