|North Carolina coach Larry Fedora watches quarterback Bryn Renner (2) direct his fast-paced offense in Saturday's spring game. Gerry Broome/Associated Press|
Of course, the final score of a spring scrimmage doesn’t mean much. And it’s difficult to read too much into the Tar Heels’ spring game, anyway, because it was, you have to remember, UNC’s 14th practice in the completely new, completely different offensive and defensive system that first-year coach Larry Fedora and his assistants are installing. A lot will change between now and September.
Even so, the spring game provided us some insight and some lessons. Here are some of them:
Bryn Renner seems to be adapting well to the new up-tempo, no-huddle spread offense.
Renner completed 23 of his 28 attempts for 295 yards and two touchdowns for the Blue team on Saturday. Not bad. Renner played in a more up-tempo, spread offense during his high school years, but because Renner more fits the mold of a traditional drop-back passer, some wondered how he’d fit into Fedora’s scheme. For those UNC fans who had doubts, Renner’s performance on Saturday had to be comforting.
Marquise Williams has some work to do to make this a true quarterback competition.
Fedora and his staff have often said that every position is open – even quarterback. Williams, a former standout at Charlotte’s Mallard Creek High, made some strides this spring and, by all accounts, he’s a lot more comfortable now than he was in UNC’s old pro-style offense. Even so, Williams has some work to do to push Renner for the starting job. Williams had some nice moments on Saturday and his final statistical line – 17-for-32, 123 yards, one touchdown, one interception – wasn’t bad. But, like Renner, Williams is still learning the new offense. The difference is that Renner entered with more experience, anyway, and he started at a more advanced point. Williams has the physical tools to succeed in Fedora’s offense, in time.
The defense faces a steep learning curve, too.
Much of the focus throughout UNC’s spring practice has been on the offense. That’s understandable given that Fedora’s coaching background is on the offensive side of the ball. But the Tar Heels’ defense faces just as much of an adjustment to the new 4-2-5 scheme that features those two hybrid positions – the bandit and the ram – that help make the defense more versatile. Take out the second quarter, when the Blue scored three offensive touchdowns, and both defenses played well. In fact, the biggest defensive play of the game came in the second quarter, too, when Tim Scott intercepted a pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.
The Tar Heels seem to have some quality depth at running back.
Giovani Bernard gained 36 on five carries on Saturday before leaving the game after suffering a cut on his head. He could have returned, had it been an actual game, but sat out the rest of the way. In his absence, A.J. Blue, a rising junior, played well. He gained 98 yards on 15 carries. Romar Morris, a freshman who spent last season redshirting, also looked good. He scored three touchdowns – two receiving, one running – and gained 75 yards combined, running and receiving. On his first touchdown, which came on a 17-yard pass from Renner, Morris flashed some breakaway speed.
Welcome back, Casey Barth.
Barth missed most of last season with an injured groin but was granted a fifth year of eligibility. His return means good things for UNC’s kicking game. Barth was responsible for the first two scores of the spring game – a 40-yard field goal, and then a 33-yard field goal. They both came in the first quarter.
UNC’s final practice of the spring will be today. Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for a position-by-position wrap-up of the spring, with a look ahead to the start of fall practice.
-- Andrew Carter