Breaking Down the Buzz: North Carolina
Entering Larry Fedora's third year with the Tar Heels, UNC fans have their eyes on the talented, but crowded, offensive backfield.
Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the Eye on College Football examines what current hot topic the fans of one BCS team are obsessing over -- rationally or not. Today's team: the North Carolina Tar Heels .
What they're talking about … competition in the the offensive backfield. Quarterback Marquise Williams started the final five games of the 2013 season, going 4-1 as a starter and leading the team to a Belk Bowl win against Cincinnati. But 2014 marks the first year that redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky, the 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year in Ohio, will compete for playing time. Trubisky was the first elite quarterback signed by Fedora at UNC and has been on campus since January 2013. When starting quarterback Bryn Renner went down with a season-ending injury, the decision to keep Trubisky on the sideline -- instead of burning his redshirt -- was in part thank to Williams' success as the starter. Fedora and new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell (former Indiana OC) have declared the competition open and it could last into fall camp.
The running back position is a hot topic of conversation as well thanks to the early enrollment of five-star Elijah Hood. Hood, at 6-foot, 220 pounds, looks like a veteran standing in pads with his teammates, but the position -- particularly in UNC's tempo-focused offense -- requires plenty of able bodies. Hood will likely compete on a weekly basis with TJ Logan, Khris Francis, and Romar Morris; a group who, along with Marquise Williams, counted for a majority of the Tar Heels' rushing yards in 2013.
What they're saying is … show me what you got on Saturday. Fans are not ready to throw their support behind new faces like Trubisky and Hood quite yet, but a big game spring game from either could change that quickly. Just don't expect the spring game to end the competition in the eyes of the coaches, and especially not the players.
Ross Martin, of 247Sports' Carolina Blue, notes that while fans are anxious to see Trubisky in action, the most concerning position group right now is the offensive line. Williams and Trubisky could end up sharing reps well into the fall, but finding the right combination up front is an unfinished process.
What we think is … focus on the other side of the ball on Saturday. Glamour positions like quarterback and running back get attention in the spring, but on Saturday UNC fans should watch the defense. With Kareem Martin, Tre Boston and Jabari Price gone, the Tar Heels have very recognizable names on the depth chart. But even with the lack of star power, it is possible that the defense could be better in 2014.
North Carolina's 1-5 start last season included frustrating defensive performances against East Carolina, Georgia Tech and Miami. Andrew Carter, of the News & Observer, caught up with sophomore cornerback Desmond Lawrence to talk about the unit's evolution.
"I mean, the offense can have a great day and the defense doesn’t, it just – it goes hand in hand," Lawrence said. "We both need to show up. But I feel like this year it’s a new start for us because I think we look faster. We’re playing more as a team, I think that’s what it really is.
"Not saying that the other years were individuals. … I think it’s going to be like a fresh start for us and we’re going to see a new defense for North Carolina."
Lawrence is one of several defensive players creating a buzz this spring. Keep his name, along with Norkeithus Otis and Travis Hughes (back from suspension), in mind when watching the Tar Heels defense.
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