Spring Practice: Heels got plenty ‘O' tools

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Last year, UNC's sporadically prolific scoring machine was overshadowed by its defensive ineptness. For the most part, the Tar Heels' offensive performers were caught in a difficult situation during post-game interviews. After all, it's a team game, and they weren't about to take umbrage with their counterparts ranked among the nation's worst.

This is a team that parlayed nearly 400 yards of offense per game and scored less than 20 points in just two contests. But with the scoreboard resembling the spindles on a slot machine at times last season – on both sides – the Tar Heels cashed in on just two victories.

While UNC's defensive capabilities appear to be on the mend – if for no other reason than they can only get better – its offensive output should again be as productive, if not more so.

One thing is for sure, the Tar Heels boast the finest talent at their skill level positions, and even the offensive line should be improved.

"We've got three running backs that are as good as anybody in the country," Darian Durant said. "With Mike Mason, Adarius Bowman and Jesse Holley back, we have the best talent. The offensive line has never been a problem. Those guys have done an outstanding job. They'll be fine."

Perhaps with his last statement, the rising senior signal caller was either trying to convince himself or once again keep his decorum at a high level when speaking of his teammates.

But in fact, the offensive line did struggle, as Durant was forced out of the pocket far too often, although at times he turned the distress into positive gainers. And the running game also faltered inexplicably, considering the talent the Tar Heels had carrying the ball.

Veteran offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill takes a more guarded approach with his scouting report, yet he too is high on an offense that is chock full of weapons at the skill positions.

"I think we'll be better at the running backs," Tranquill said following Saturday's closed scrimmage. "Chad Scott has had a good spring for us. Hopefully [Ronnie] McGill can pick up where he left off. Jacque Lewis can do a lot of things out of the backfield. He doesn't have the physical tools but he has a lot of ability coming out of the backfield, so we ought to be able to run the ball better.

"Our big concern now is backups [on the offensive line]. We've got some guys from the defense and hopefully that will help us. [Brian] Chacos has not been with us and that is a big concern. But, I think we should be better up front offensively than we have been."

Tranquill went on to say that while McGill didn't perform particularly well on Saturday, he has had an excellent spring.

Then there is the stable of receivers – a talent-laden group with veterans like Jarwarski Pollock, Derrele Mitchell and Chris Curry, along with sophomore phenoms that were pressed into action as freshmen last year in Mike Mason, Adarius Bowman and Jesse Holley.

However, despite the fact that the latter trio has grown by leaps and bounds, they have not even scratched the surface of their potential.

"We've had a lot of youth at that position and we've graduated a lot of players that were seniors over the last few years," wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer said. "We lost four guys like Chesley [Borders], Boz [Bosley Allen], Kory Bailey and Sam [Aiken] at one time and the freshmen had to play. What we had was four of five years of experience with those guys being redshirted, and now these guys have been thrown into the fire. Their talent does match their expectations, but the level of ACC-play compared to high school play – and we run a pro-style offense – they haven't yet reached my expectations or their expectations in their production on the field, but they're getting there."

So with the pieces now seemingly in place for an offensive juggernaut, it all comes back to Durant. This is his year. He will no longer be mentioned subserviently to the likes of Philip Rivers or Matt Schaub. He will likely enter the season as the best quarterback in the league.

Still, he has a lot of work to do, especially in practice, where he admits he has not always put enough emphasis.

"I just want to get better each and every day and develop a better relationship with my players – especially with the wide receivers; we need to get on the same page," Durant said. "The more we can get our timing and our communication down, I think we can be a lot better."

"It's time for Durant," added Tranquill. "That's up to him. He's got to put in as much time as he needs to get himself mentally and physically better. Darian's fault and my biggest criticism of him is his ability to run the game. Sometimes he doesn't run the game like he needs to be able to run the game. But, I think he has improved at that, and I know he knows that he has improved at that. Little things like formations, protections and how many timeouts do you have…those are the things that he needs to get better at realizing and I think he will."

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