In shorts, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said, every player looks pretty good, so there’s not much that can be gleaned from the team's first few days of spring practice.
Still, it’s relatively easy to tell the new players from the veterans, and for the Tar Heels, the five early enrollees participating this spring figure to have plenty of eyes on them.
“They’re a little big-eyed because it’s a different tempo of practice,” Fedora said after UNC’s first practice on Wednesday.
Carolina brought in defensive backs M.J. Stewart and Allen Artis, tight end Brandon Fritts, offensive lineman Bentley Spain and tailback Elijah Hood this spring. While none have a clear path to a starting job, the youth on UNC’s roster combined with the extra time they’ll spend in practice this spring could make for some surprises by the time the season kicks off in September.
“I think all five of them could help us, and that’s why they’ve taken advantage of the opportunity, gotten here early and are working very hard,” Fedora said.
Fedora said he was pleased with the early work Stewart and Artis got during offseason conditioning drills, and both figure to be in the mix for playing time in the secondary. Spain made a big impression early, and Fedora said there could be a starting job waiting for the freshman by the fall.
“He’s having a great offseason, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that kid isn’t playing for us next year,” Fedora said.
But it’s Fritts and Hood who are perhaps the most intriguing.
With Eric Ebron’s early departure for the NFL, North Carolina will be looking for someone to fill the void at tight end. Fedora said senior Jack Tabb will get first crack at the job, but divvying up Ebron’s 62 receptions and 973 yards from 2013 likely won’t be a one-man job.
Then there’s the running game, which Fedora pointed to as one of the more disappointing aspects of North Carolina’s 2013 campaign. The Tar Heels finished 11th in the ACC in rushing (148.3 yards per game) and Marquise Williams, the part-time starting quarterback, was the team’s leading rusher.
There’s ample reason for optimism on the ground, as UNC returns a deep bench of runners, led by sophomore T.J. Logan (533 yards, four TDs in 2013), who missed the early part of last season with an injury. Romar Morris and Khris Francis will be in the mix, too, but there’s no question that Hood could make an instant impact. One of the top recruits in the state, Hood was an ESPN300 player and the No. 9 tailback in the country, and Fedora said he’s already added weight and impressed coaches during offseason drills.
“He’s a guy that’s 225 pounds and has great speed,” Fedora said. “He’s really having a good offseason with us right now. We’re excited to see how he does this spring.”