CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – What stood out most about North Carolina’s first day of spring practice on Tuesday were the players and coaches that weren’t there.
There was no Gene Chizik or Charlton Warren, no Tray Scott or Larry Porter. Gone were Mitch Trubisky and Elijah Hood, as were the perennial practice antics of Mack Hollins, Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard. Mainstays along the lines, such as Caleb Peterson and Jon Heck on offense and Naz Jones and Mikey Bart on defense, were no longer serving as anchors. Even the special teams units were missing the veteran presence of T.J. Logan and the flowing locks of Nick Weiler.
Players and coaches come, but some are program staples whose voids are felt a bit longer than others. The exodus of experience, as evidenced by the loss of 264 career offensive starts, welcomes a spring of change for Larry Fedora’s program.
“We’ve got some guys that haven’t played much that are going to get an opportunity to show everybody who they are,” Fedora said after Tuesday’s practice. “That’s what happens when you lose seniors.”
The Tar Heels will keep trucking along, maintaining their rapid pace and expecting the new and inexperienced players to match the standard in place. With more than a dozen starting spots open, there’s a sense of opportunity for incoming freshmen and veteran reserves.
“I know you guys don’t want to believe it, but we go into spring always saying, ‘okay, nobody’s got a starting position,’ and we start from scratch,” Fedora said. “But the problem now is that we have a lot of guys with inexperience and so we’ve got to get them as much experience as we possibly can this spring in these 15 practices. We’ve got to put them into as many uncomfortable situations as we can possibly put them into.”
Highlighting the spring transition is the competition at quarterback, which includes redshirt sophomore Nathan Elliott and redshirt freshmen Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd. This is the first spring since Fedora arrived in Dec. 2011 that UNC hasn’t entered spring ball with significant experience at quarterback.
Elliott, who is the only one of the three to see live action, opened practice with the ones, but Fedora indicated all three will split reps evenly until separation occurs. Although UNC remains in search of a potential graduate transfer at quarterback, the opportunity exists for someone to grab the job entering training camp in August.
“I’m hoping these guys are expecting to win the job in spring,” Fedora said. “And if it happens, if somebody separates that much in the spring, then we could have a starter. Whether or not that happens, I don’t know. We’ll see.”
As with various other positions, Fedora believes the primary issue is inexperience, not a lack of talent.
“I think we’ve got some really talented players, I really do,” Fedora said. “Now, getting them that experience so they look like they’re talented players is the key.”
With so many moving parts, a primary objective for the Tar Heels this spring is building team chemistry and cohesion. Fedora pointed to Austin Proehl and Bentley Spain on offense and M.J. Stewart and Donnie Miles on defense, among others, as veterans that are stepping up to feel the vast leadership void.