Offense Making Strides
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It’s been difficult to conduct interviews at North Carolina’s training camp this month without buzzwords such as consistency and physicality working their way into the conversation.
Not only is that by design, but it’s also an indication that the coaching staff’s points of emphasis have filtered down and planted firmly in the minds of its players.
While defensive coordinator Gene Chizik latched onto the physicality term once spring ball started in March, assistant head coach for offense Seth Littrell began talking about the need for improved consistency on his side of the ball in the aftermath of the Quick Lanes Bowl loss to Rutgers last December.
He’s still harping on that aspect of his offense eight months later.
“[We’re] way more consistent, I think, overall even from the spring,” Littrell said on Wednesday. “All of the summer work they put in really shows. And then it gets more consistent every day. That’s going to happened. We’re a little bit more experienced overall at every position this season, so we expect that consistency on a daily basis.”
It helps that UNC returns 10 starters and 214 career starts on the offensive side of the ball. It helps that Chizik’s demand for more physical play has carried over the line of scrimmage. It also helps that Littrell is no longer the new face trying to replace former offensive coordinator Blake Anderson.
“Year 2 is always easier for everybody,” Littrell said.
With five starters back along the offensive line, Littrell’s emphasis this camp has been to establish a pounding ground game that starts with his running backs, not senior quarterback Marquise Williams, who led the team in rushing yards (788) last fall.
“If you improve the run game, that opens up the passing lanes, opens up our play-action passing and gives our offense a whole new dimension,” sophomore tailback Elijah Hood said. “We get the tempo quicker and we get to pound defenses. We get the D-line bending over and are able to move them. The running game is an important part of this offense and we’re going to go out there and try to produce with it.”
Hood, who is currently working with the ones, and true freshman Ty’Son Williams (6-0, 220) will provide the physical punch UNC has been lacking in recent years. Junior T.J. Logan will play the role of speed back with a mix of Romar Morris and Khris Francis added in.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora told reporters that while he’s heard the theory that running backs need a certain amount of carries to establish a rhythm, he doesn’t know if there’s any truth to it because he’s had players thrive with both significant and minimal numbers of snaps.
One thing is certain: UNC does not want its quarterback to be the featured back in the ground game again this year.
“We would like more of the workload and more production from the running backs,” Fedora said.
The coaching staff fuels a competitive atmosphere in camp by tallying point totals on any drills pitting the offense against the defense. The offense is currently leading by the smallest of margins, according to Fedora.
The offense led 589-582 through the first 16 days of practice and won Wednesday’s practice by four points.
UNC will officially crack open film on South Carolina next Tuesday, although senior right guard Landon Turner is encouraging his teammates to get a head start this week.
“We can’t get complacent,” Turner said. “If we get complacent, it’s going to spiral down into where we were last year.”
Turner’s comments eventually turned back to consistency, which has become the norm for the offensive players and coaches. How that concept translates onto the field will determine the offense’s improvement this fall.
“I feel pretty good about where we’re at and where we’re going,” Littrell said.
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