With spring practice now in the books, a productive summer awaits the Tar Heel football team. But head coach Larry Fedora says he’s already been seeing plenty of progression from a variety of players.
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Many say championships are won and lost away from the bright lights of game day.
The offseason serves as a training ground for established athletes and provides a proving ground for young, inexperienced players hoping to make their mark.
That’s why Coach Fedora says it’s all about the reps this time of year.
The Carolina skipper says Damien Washington, Juval Mollette and even walk-on Thomas Jackson have all been making strides.
It’s no surprise the microscope will be focused on new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik and what he can do with a UNC defense that was hapless for the majority of the 2014 season.
A fresh philosophy could breed more life into a ragged unit.
So far, at least, Coach Fedora says he’s been pleasantly surprised by the performance of a few standout players, young and old, on the defensive side of the ball.
“[Dajaun] Drennon’s doing a really nice job; [Jeff] Schoettmer has picked up right where he left off. He understands this already, a very intelligent guy. Shakeel Rashad has taken a lot of pressure off himself. He’s slid back to linebacker and done a good job of adjusting there,” Coach Fedora says.
A lot of eyes will be on promising newcomer Jalen Dalton. The defensive end could provide a much-needed boost in the pass rush, creating havoc in the backfield. Coach Fedora’s been observing the freshman closely and has high hopes for Dalton.
“He’s got good power for a guy that ought to be in high school right now. He’s 270 pounds and 6’ 6”. He’s got some pop and a little bit of quickness about him, so he’s going to develop into a really nice player,” Coach Fedora says.
In the secondary, a pair of experienced campaigners has led the way.
“Brian Walker has done a really good job. Malik Simmons has stepped up made some plays for us this spring,” Coach Fedora says.
Another glaring weakness for the Tar Heels a season ago came in the special teams department – primarily at the place-kicking position.
But this year, there are questions to be answered at punter as well. Reliable Tommy Hibbard has moved on to pursue his dreams of landing a roster spot in the NFL.
“We still have a long way to go with our punters. We’ve made some strides with our kickers, but we still have a ways to go,” Coach Fedora says.
There may be a ways to go, but with no warm-up games to ease into the 2015 campaign, there’s more urgency inherent in this offseason for the Tar Heels.
Carolina will certainly need to be firing on all cylinders when it takes on South Carolina to kick off the college football season Thursday, Sept. 3 at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.