Three things we learned in the spring about the North Carolina Tar Heels:
1. The running game looks sharp: T.J. Logan emerged down the stretch last season for North Carolina, but coach Larry Fedora said the rising sophomore still had much to learn. By the spring game, Logan looked like an established veteran, running for 109 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. His backfield counterpart Khris Francis had 88 yards and two scores, too, while early enrollee Elijah Hood had a quiet day in the spring finale, though he managed to impress coaches and teammates throughout the five weeks of practice.
2. Replacing Ebron will be a group effort: Eric Ebron was the offensive backbone for the Tar Heels last season, and he’ll likely be rewarded as a first-round pick in next month’s NFL draft. Replacing all that production won’t be easy, but UNC’s receiving corps figures to be far deeper. Quinshad Davis is a budding star, while sophomores Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard made big strides throughout the spring.
3. The defense should be better: Fedora said the biggest takeaway from the spring is that his defense, which struggled at times last season, looks far more savvy in the system. The bulk of the Tar Heels’ experience is on that side of the ball, and Fedora said he was pleased with how poised and refined the unit looked consistently throughout the spring. After finishing 10th in the league total defense last season, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Three questions for the fall:
1. So, who’s the quarterback?: Fedora said from the outset that the QB job was up for grabs, and the spring game didn’t bring much closure to the debate. Neither Marquise Williams nor Mitch Trubisky looked particularly sharp -- both throwing a pick, neither tossing a touchdown. Fedora said he wants the competition to continue throughout the summer, and while Williams has an edge in experience, it’s clear Trubisky is a legitimate contender.
2. How will the O-line hold up?: UNC loses two key starters off last season's line and entered the spring with several other veterans banged up. Even highly touted early enrollee Bentley Spain couldn’t make it through the spring without a few dings, which left the Tar Heels working with a makeshift unit throughout. Fedora hopes the group will be healthier by fall, but it remains a work in progress and, with all due respect to the QBs, perhaps the most important question left to be answered.
3. Can the Heels stop the run?: It’s the inherent Catch-22 of spring football: If the offense is doing well, the defense must be struggling -- and vice versa. So when the running game looked so strong in the spring game, it only served to underscore what was UNC’s biggest defensive shortcoming in 2013. The Heels finished dead last in the ACC in rushing D (182 yards per game) and while Logan, Francis and Co. promise to frustrate a lot of defenders in 2014, Fedora would love to see his front seven look a little more stout moving forward.
One way-too-early prediction:
The big question at the end of 2013 remains unanswered after the spring of 2014: In UNC the inexperienced group that started 1-5 last year or the red-hot team that finished 6-1? It’s certainly encouraging that last year’s freshman have continued to show improvement, and that makes UNC an early contender in the Coastal. The Heels might be the most complete team in the division, but unless they improve on both sides of the line, more inconsistency could await this fall.