College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the North Carolina Tar Heels and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring practice begins: March 6
Spring game: April 13
2012 record: 8-4 overall, 5-3 ACC
Returning starters: 15 (six offense, nine defense)
The Least You Should Know about North Carolina This Spring
-- Defense comes first. The Tar Heels' transition to a hybrid 4-2-5 attacking defense encountered some speed bumps in Year 1 -- a 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech, for example. But frequently the unit was able to rely on forcing turnovers to give the ball back to the high-octane offense. But after giving up at least 400 total yards of offense in five of the final six games of the season, the defense is an immediate area of concern for 2013. With Sylvester Williams and Kevin Reddick having graduated, senior defensive end Kareem Martin steps into a new role as the face of the defense. The keys for spring will be developing depth in the secondary and finding a new middle linebacker to replace Reddick. Redshirt freshman Nathan Staub and Dan "Mash" Mastromatteo have been singled out as players who could step into that role this spring.
-- Can Bryn Renner replicate his production with a new supporting cast? North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner has thrown 25+ touchdowns and totaled 3,000+ yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter, maintaining an impressive 65.1 completion percentage while throwing it 422 times in Fedora's up-tempo system. But he was able to accomplish all of it behind a veteran offensive line with All-ACC running back Gio Bernard in the backfield. Now the attention turns to Renner, who will be expected to keep up the Tar Heels' high scoring ways (40.6 points per game in 2012) with a new supporting cast. A.J. Blue and Romar Morris are the favorites to step in at running back, though highly touted freshman T.J. Logan could make an impact. While replacing Jonathan Cooper and Travis Bond is a concern, the offensive staff should feel confident about returning starters Russell Bodine (center) and Alex Hurst (tackle), along with Landon Turner, a 6-4, 320 pound guard who made three starts as a redshirt freshman in 2012. Luckily Renner returns two of his favorite targets from 2012, but more on them below.
-- Quinshad Davis and Eric Ebron have a chance to go from good-to-great after breakout 2012 seasons. Wide receiver Quinshad Davis had just six receptions in his first three games as a Tar Heel, but the 6-4 Gaffney, S.C. native broke out in conference play and finished as the team leader in receptions (61) and receiving yards (776). Davis' strength as a possession receiver makes him extremely valuable in the North Carolina offense, so he should expect more attention from the opposition in 2013. Eric Ebron finished second on the team in receiving yards, pulling in 40 catches for 625 yards and four touchdowns. Ebron has the size and athleticism that make him the matchup nightmare so many coaches are looking for at tight end these days -- too big for a defensive back, too fast for a linebacker. Ebron should get plenty of attention from NFL scouts this fall, so it would benefit all involved for the junior tight end to build on an impressive 2012 campaign.
-- There's a clean slate for everyone in Chapel Hill. One aspect of North Carolina's spring practice that keeps things interesting is Larry Fedora's insistence that every position is open for competition. The coaching staff does not even expect to work up their first depth chart of the 2013 season until the end of spring drills, and Fedora expects all players -- even two-year starting quarterback Bryn Renner -- will be pushed for starters reps. From a fan's perspective it becomes difficult to follow developments during spring, but the competition could produce a key contributor from under the radar. North Carolina is also done with the NCAA-imposed postseason ban, which should help the Tar Heels focus off the field as they compete on the field for the school's first ACC title since 1980.
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