CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina’s position battles for starting jobs have been limited to a select few this preseason. Larry Fedora made it clear on Monday those interested in the right guard and punter positions would have to wait a few more days for resolution.
Redshirt freshman Tommy Hatton worked primary with the ones at right guard during the second half of training camp, although Fedora declined to say during his weekly press conference that anybody had separated from the group at right guard, which includes juniors R.J. Prince and Brad Henson.
“I would say right now we’ve got it down to a two-horse race, and Tommy Hatton and R.J. Prince are probably the two guys that are going to play there,” Fedora said. “And they both may play, so it may not be an issue.”
Hatton and Henson spent the bulk of training camp rotating between right guard and center. UNC’s depth chart has Henson listed as center Lucas Crowley’s backup.
Fedora was less accommodating when it came to the punter position, where incumbent Joey Mangili and Australian newcomer Tom Sheldon have competed beyond the media’s vision in August.
“We’re going to put one out there the first time we punt,” Fedora said. “I don’t know which one it’s going to be yet.”
When asked if he was confident that Sheldon was ready to play, Fedora replied, “I don’t know, I don’t have a lot of confidence in anything right now.”
UNC’s depth chart only had “ORs” listed at the two aforementioned starting positions. Georgia, by contrast, had 17 “ORs”, which speaks to Kirby Smart’s desire to keep every last detail secretive heading into Saturday’s matchup.
You won’t have Mack (Hollins) for the first half. How will things play out offensively?
“We’ve been preparing for that this whole camp. The biggest deal for us is that he’s been a starter on all four special teams. You’re talking about four different units that you have to prepare for, so that’s been more difficult than preparing offensively. The next receiver will step up and we’ve got a lot of guys playing the position. One thing Gunter (Brewer)’s done this fall camp is he’s rolled every guy inside and out. So Ryan Switzer’s played inside, he’s played outside, Bug (Howard)’s played inside, he’s played outside…. We’ve got quite a few guys who know what to do and Gunter will make that decision when it comes to game time."
Mitch (Trubisky) has made plays over the years, but he’s done it in a backup fashion. Do you need to see him under the light Saturday to be convinced?
“We’ll I’m convinced he’s our guy so there’s no question about that. But you’re right, coming off the bench in a relief role and being the starter, there’s a difference there. There will be a little learning curve for him in that aspect. You don’t have time to ease into the game, you’ve got to roll. But his role doesn’t change. It’s to take care of the football and move the chains. That’s all he has to do, he doesn’t have to be superhuman.”
In terms of taking the next step, how important is this game?
“It’s a big game against a great opponent. They’ve got great tradition, they’re well known. It’s a good measuring stick for us and where we are with this program right now. Everybody knows that win or lose it doesn’t make or break our season one way or another because it doesn’t affect the goals we have for this football team. So yeah we want to go out there and win a football game and we’re preparing that way and I believe that our guys are going to believe that they’re going to win that football game."
What gives you confidence that the run defense will be better than it was the last two years?
“How much work those guys have put in. Their attitudes, Tray (Scott's) attitude, the chemistry they have within that group. The things Gene (Chizik) and his staff have put in and installed gives me confidence.”
Will Nick Chubb’s status affect preparation?
“Since I’ve been here I don’t think there’s been a year where Georgia hasn’t been in the top ten in recruiting rankings. They’ve got players. There’s going to be a tailback back there that can go. There’s going to be an offensive line that can go. There’s going to be a quarterback, whoever it is, that can go. Same thing on defense. They’ve got players so it really doesn’t matter. For us, it’s making sure that our guys know what to do, we’re fresh, we play fast."
What do you do for a team who doesn’t have a quarterback set right now?
“You don’t change your preparation. The toughest thing in this game is not trying to figure out the personnel, it’s trying to figure out schemes. That is by far the most difficult thing we’re dealing with…. If you’re not careful you start chasing ghosts and you start creating more things for your guys to think about and the next thing you know they’ve got this head full of stuff and they don’t move around very fast… Less is more.”
Evan Chronis contributed to this report