"Great practice," head coach John Bunting said, upon entering the vestibule, just beyond the locker rooms. "I'm very pleased with the way that they moved around, the assignments, the enthusiasm. Making plays on defense, making plays on offense, and working together. We got our second phase of special teams in so we had a good day--a very productive day."
One of the emerging leaders is rising senior Chase Page who has moved back to defensive tackle after a short stint at defensive end over the course of the final games last season.
"Defensive line is defensive line," Page said. "Last year I was about 290, a little bit heavy to be playing defensive end. I did OK against some plays, but on bootlegs and options I just wasn't really fast enough--and I wasn't used to the reads--so I'm kind of happy to be back inside. Defensive end is definitely more fun, but I'm more comfortable at three-technique, and I can help the team better there."
The team spent between 25 and 33 percent of practice time working on fundamentals and techniques in individual work, which will be the formula throughout the spring. "That's more time individually than I've done in the past," Bunting said. "I'm trying to take our individual fundamental techniques to another level."
Schemes are being slowly implemented. Today the team worked on three-wides on offense and a second coverage on defense. One of the first steps on defense is learning new terminology for both the old and the new schemes.
"We're using some of last year's defense and implementing some other defensive schemes," Bunting said. "I think we'll be able to play more 'man' coverage. We're working on techniques that it takes to [play] that. We're also playing a couple of different zones.
"We were primarily a 'cover-four' last year team, which is the four-deep scheme. We'll be some of that, but we'll have some variable zone coverages in there. We'll have more zone coverages here, but I still want to play--and I think we can play--man-to-man.
"Everything we do on the back end depends on what we can do up-front, particularly at defensive end, which was a very poorly played position last year, with the exception of Madison Hedgecock.
"We're really going to simplify it is what the coaches are saying," Page said. "We haven't put too much in yet, but it seems like it will be really simple. We are going to let the athletes be athletes and let us run around and play ball."
It's early, but players are already causing coaches to take notice. Bunting had plenty of praise to go around for today's efforts.
"I'd say the back end players looked really good today," he said, "the safeties in particular. Linwood Williams made an interception today. [Gerald] Sensabaugh moved around very well today. Defensively that's what stood out to me. Larry Edwards is showing the speed that he has.
"I think Adarius Bowman is really standing out on offense right now. And it's great to see Madison Hedgecock [back at fullback]. He's gone through two days of practice and has not blown an assignment. I'm excited about that."
The new defensive coaches are making an impression as well.
"Coach Sanders is the hard[core guy]," Page said. "He gets you fired up, kind of yelling. Coach Gutekunst is more laid back and funny with a sense of humor, but he's business too. They play off of each other well."
Scott Brumett, ETSU transfer, is helping to fill a void at tight end left by Bobby Blizzard's graduation. He played only sparingly there at ETSU over the course of two different spring practices but was moved back over to defense in order to meet a need. He has displayed some aptitude for the position as a receiver so far as a Tar Heel but admits that he still has some work to do.
"I feel pretty comfortable, overall," Brumett said. "I've made a few mess-ups here and there, but that's what I expected coming into a new position, to a new offense. I mostly have to work on pass protection. Other than that, I'm having a pretty good go at it."
The new tight end also shared some of what he's seeing from the offense at this point.
"I can tell we are going to focus a lot on running the football. We're doing a lot of different things--I can already tell from the play book. We are going to expect a lot out of the offense this year."
As for the tight ends, he thinks they will make an impact whether they are catching the ball or not.
"The linebacker or the safety has to cover us," he said. "There is no free man off. Somebody has to account for our tight end, and that is going to be a big plus for us this year."
Expect some two tight end sets, which offers some flexibility for the offense and uncertainty for the defense.
"The 12-personnel gives a [set] that is difficult to read. There aren't many schemes to play against it. They don't know if you are really going to run the ball, throw the ball, or play-action out of it."
And if you needed more evidence that spring football was truly here, offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill has already been seen slamming his hat down on the ground in practice.
"I already heard from the guys when I got here to expect that," Brumett said with a grin. "It's already happened a few times.
"That's the sign of a great coach. He's not going to just brag on you 100 percent. He's always going to find some [areas where you can improve]. I would expect that of a great coach."