Posted by Chip Patterson
College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at North Carolina , who started spring practice last Wednesday.
Is it possible that the suspensions of 2010 better prepared the Tar Heels for 2011?
With how publicized the program has been in the last 12 months, it is easy to forget that North Carolina head coach Butch Davis is only entering his fifth year in Chapel Hill. Davis had plans of bringing top notch talent to North Carolina, and the records show that it has worked. After going 4-8 in year one, Davis has rattled off three straight 8-5 seasons and in 2010 delivered the first bowl win for North Carolina since 2001.
But the dark cloud has not completely been lifted off the North Carolina football program. After finishing with that Music Bowl victory, too many Tar Heel fans were left saying "what if?" What if North Carolina had all of their suspended players for the whole season? Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com wrote that if all of North Carolina's suspended players had played the Tar Heels might have contended for a national championship. Obviously this claim is a little far-fetched, but with 12 Tar Heels showing their stuff in the NFL combine, it is easy to see why fans are asking the "what ifs'."
With all that talent at the NFL combine, you would think that there would be a drop-off for North Carolina coming into 2011. But the players, and those close to the program do not expect a drop-off at all. When you have a recruiter like Butch Davis you don't need to rebuild, you just reload.
With all of those players missing action early in the season (and some for the entire year), a crop of young talent got to see the field much earlier than expected. Those players are back for 2011, and are ready to form their own impressive combine group. At least 12 backups saw much more action than they ever expected in last year's season opener against LSU. The game, played in the Georgia Dome, was a real taste of big-time southern football for those players. They will take those experiences on the field, and enter spring practice hungry.
On the defensive side of the ball the Tar Heels only return six starters, but many of the reserves saw significant action on the field due to suspension and/or injury. The playmaking ability of Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant will be missed, but look this spring for significant changes in the attitudes of Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick. It will be their duty to carry on the torch from the previous two star linebackers. The line is back with even more depth, and most of the secondary got to see the field during the suspensions of Deuntae Williams (4 games) and Kendrick Burney (6 games).
Things are less certain for the offense. Most important for the Tar Heels offense will be seeing how Bryn Renner does stepping into the starting role. In his four years on the field, Yates set the school records for career and single-season passing yards, as well as single season total offense. Now he passes the torch to Renner, who has been taking notes for the last two years.
"I learned everything I knew to be a college quarterback from him," Renner said after his first practice as the starting signal-caller. "Just the way he handled himself on and off the field, and the way he conducted himself on the field, so I learned a lot from him."
Renner enters spring practice as the starter, but he will be pushed for the job. With A.J. Blue healthy, there will be an open competition for the backup spot with Braden Hanson and the highly sought-after Marquise Williams, who enrolled early. The hope being that the competition will only improve all of the quarterbacks, giving offensive coordinator John Shoop some comfortable depth at the quarterback position.
One thing that Renner does have going for him from the beginning is a talented crop of returning wide receivers. Dwight Jones, Erik Highsmith, and Jheranie Boyd are all familiar with Renner from practice in previous years and should waste no time getting their timing back. Ryan Houston, who led the Tar Heels in rushing TD's in 2009, is back after redshirting a year ago and should help take the pressure off the first-time starter.
"We are really excited to get Ryan back, that was a big help," Renner explained. "I'm really excited to see Giovanni [Bernard], I think he's going to be a great player and has great upside. I'm really looking forward to handing the ball off to those two guys."
Despite the optimism and excitement from the players, there still is an unresolved NCAA investigation. While the athletic department remains optimistic that no major sanctions will be placed on the program, there is the possibility that a punishment will be handed down from the NCAA that could hurt the Tar Heels' chances of continuing the postseason streak that Davis has established.
But until then, the expectations are the same in Chapel Hill, and the campaign to return to a bowl in 2011 has already begun.
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