As someone once said, "The longer I live, the less I know." After viewing practice on Wednesday, the potential of the 2002 Tar Heel football team is fuzzier than ever.
If you didn't know better, you would think that it was the Tar Heel offense that lost eight starters, judging from practice on Wednesday.
The coaching staff appeared far from pleased with Wednesday's practice on the offensive side of the ball. At one point during the ending scrimmage session, Coach Bunting informed the offense that if they didn't "pick it up," they could just spend practice running.
Players were out of place in formations, forgot to go into motion, and in general were out of sync. Offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill "vocalized" his disapproval on the offense on several occasions, and the scrimmage session appeared to be cut short.
The highlight of the scrimmage was a breakaway run by Willie Parker, but there were few others. The defense keep good pressure on the quarterbacks, and receivers had a difficult time getting open. Larry Jessup, who played with the first team defense today at right defensive end, deflected a C.J. Stephens pass.
Dexter Reid is an emotional leader on defense, and his teammates seem to be developing his intimidating attitude. Every good defensive play, especially turnovers recovered, are celebrated by the entire defense enthusiastically. The defense also has senior leadership in Malcolm Stewart, and multiple year starter Michael Waddell.
Jeb Terry is attempting to assume a similar role on offense, but today Reid's troops seemed more emotionally into the contest than the offense.
On balance, as fired up as the defense was, it seemed more of a case of an offense out of sync. Though the offense returns starters at fullback, tight end, three of the offensive line, and all of its wide receivers except Kory Bailey, it should not come as a surprise that the offense is struggling to find itself.
Last season's offense had the steadying hand of seniors Adam Metts and Kory Bailey, as well as the quiet leadership of Ronald Curry. This year's team has only one senior starter, tight end Zach Hilton. There is some experience returning on offense, but as a unit they lack senior leadership.
As much as anything else, this spring -- and perhaps the fall as well -- will be about establishing some leadership on the offensive side of the ball. The offense needs players to step up and keep their heads in the game, and this will be especially important once the season starts.
On the bright side, the first team offense did very well in the red zone offense drill, though it must be noted they lined up against the second team defense.
On the first play of this drill, C.J. Stephens drilled a pass to Zach Hilton in front of the goal posts for a touchdown. On the second play, he connected with Willie Parker, though for a gain of only about five or six yards. On the third play, Stephens connected with Harry Lewis.
Enter Matt Baker. On Baker's first play, he connected with Chesley Borders in the corner of the end zone. On his second play, Baker tossed another touchdown strike to Jawarski Pollock. On this third play, his pass to Sam Aiken fell incomplete.
Overall, three of the six passes tossed in the red zone offense went for a touchdown. It is doubtful that the red zone offense would have fared as well against the first team defense, but even so, it was still impressive.
One of the enigmas of spring practice from my perspective has been Donti Coats. Twice today Coats pushed through the center of the first team defense and would have recorded a sack had he been allowed to tackle the quarterback. Of the interior defensive linemen, Coats seems the most effective when he gets into action. Despite my observations, Coats seems to be languishing on the depth chart. I guess that is why the coaches get the big bucks, and I just get to watch.
Another surprise to me was the fact
that neither Jocques Dumas or Isaac Mooring lined up with the first team defense.
Perhaps one or both fell into Coach Webster's doghouse during practice, or perhaps
this position has not yet firmed up in terms of the starting positions.
It pays to be cautious when making observations during practice, but I would say that despite the returning starters on offense and the presence of C.J. Stephens, the offense may struggle more than I anticipated. Conversely, despite the relative inexperience of the defense, they may be better than I had expected. I think this may hold true, particularly early in the season next year.