Few college teams are fortunate enough to enter a new season without addressing personnel concerns. Players move on, get injured, and gaps have to be filled. One way to address these changes is to alter offensive and defensive schemes to fit the available players. North Carolina looks to be headed in that direction this spring.
Last season, the strength of the Tar Heel offense was far and away its wide receiver corps. To a large extent, that is true of the 2002 version, but this spring it seems that there is greater versatility at the skill positions.
Bobby Blizzard, who has not received much notice in previous reports, will be a factor in the offense along with returning starter Zach Hilton. Blizzard is a smooth receiver with great hands, and will be a presence next season. In two tight end situations, Blizzard will be like an extra wide receiver. Hilton, who is a better blocker than Blizzard, will see most of the playing time at tight end, but Blizzard gives the offense an additional weapon.
The offensive focus this spring seems to be the running game. In particular, more plays seem to be devoted to off-tackle runs that play to the strengths of UNC backs Willie Parker and Jacque Lewis. Both starters return on the right side of the offensive line (Jeb Terry and Willie McNeil), and plays that take advantage of their experience seem more numerous than in past seasons.
Because of concerns on the defensive side of the ball, ball control will be paramount for the UNC offense next year. The style of offense will be more oriented towards that goal by more emphasis on the running game, and more short, ball control passes to backs and tight ends.
Stephens at the helm
The difference may be more subtle once the season starts. The offense has to take into account the depth, experience, and talent of the wide receiver corps, and it makes sense that they will again be a large part of the offense. Jawarski Pollock, the new addition to the wide receiver corps, coninues to be impressive, and look for offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill to find ways to the get the ball in his hands.
Aiken stays in control
These changes may mean that the offense, in practice, does not appear to be as dominant as might have been expected.
The focus on defense, also driven by personnel changes, has been on creating turnovers this spring. Last year's defense was capable of shutting down opposing offenses. This year's defensive style will be more aggressive, and take more risks.
Coats and Co. would have had a sack on this play
There will be more blitzing, both from the linebacker and safety spots, and defensive backs are more focused on challenging for possession of the ball. The inherent risk in that style of defense is the possibility of getting burned by big plays.
Chris Curry and defense to take more risks?
It continues to surprise me that the first team offense does not appear as effective against the first team defense as might have been expected. One of the surprises of the spring game last year was the ability of the first team offense to move the ball effectively against a veteran defensive unit (although they played without the contributions of All-American Julius Peppers). In this year's spring game, do not be surprised if the first team defense is not more effective than might have been predicted.
Offense not dominating defense
- Darian Durant was at practice today, but not in full pads. Consequently, he did not participate in scrimmages. Durant showed a little rust early, tossing an interception to Chris Curry in seven-on-seven drills, but on balance showed he still has a lot of skills. He was particularly effective in the two-minute drill. He has changed numbers, and will now wear number 4 instead of 11.
- Bosley Allen broke a foot on his first day back at practice and will be out 8 to 12 weeks.
- Jocque Dumas was back with the first team defense today. Last week he scrimmaged mostly with the second team.
- Doug Justice, a red-shirt freshman linebacker, took a few snaps with the first team defense today.
- Chad Scott, who is ineligible to play next season after transferring from Kentucky, looked impressive.
- Scrimmages are not as intense as last year, as coaches discourage tackling. Depth is such a concern that players are admonished for bringing runners to the ground.
- Dexter Reid continues to be impressive. He may be the best player on the UNC defense, and he is actively taking a leadership role with the defense.
- Michael Waddell's closing speed continues to be amazing. On one play in seven-on-seven drills, he made up several steps on Chesley Borders to break up a pass.
- Chris Curry is having a solid spring at free safety. With Kevin Knight, Michael Waddell, and Dexter Reid, Curry rounds out an excellent secondary unit.
- Once source told me today that three or four true freshmen will have to play on defense next year because of depth concerns.
- The John Bunting Radio Show will air next Thursday night live from Lucy's Restaurant in Chapel Hill.