UNC football head coach Larry Fedora knows time is running out on his preparations for the 2014 season. The sense of urgency and excitement is steadily building at the Navy Field practice facility.

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And with training camp wrapping up and the game plan for week one against Liberty being installed, Tar Heel observers may be wondering who impressed the most in the preseason grind?

Coach Fedora says unheralded sophomore linebacker Joe Jackson would top that list.

“If I had to pick out one guy out of the whole camp who has turned himself around, I would pick Jackson or Sam Smiley, but it would be one of those two. Joe’s right there,” Coach Fedora says.

Joe Jackson battles in training camp

Joe Jackson battles in training camp (UNC Athletics)

While young talents like Jackson are hitting the field hard looking to impress the coaching staff for coveted playing time next week, veterans like Ethan Farmer are just hoping to be afforded the chance to suit it up at Kenan Stadium.

Eligibility issues are a major concern for Farmer and in turn, the defensive line. Coach Fedora says Farmer being one of a mere six seniors on the roster makes him even more invaluable on the field.

“It’s definitely a concern. It’s a concern for me when any of our guys aren’t out on the field for whatever reason. But especially when it’s a senior, and you only have six scholarship seniors. It’s a concern. I’ve got a lot of concerns,” Coach Fedora says.

But Coach Fedora says there may be a silver lining in the Farmer situation. It gives younger Tar Heels a chance to step up, garner more reps and in turn, bolster the depth of the men up front.

“He’s [Farmer] a senior. He has experience. It’s not critical that he gets all the reps. It’s more critical that those younger guys get the reps. There’s a chance that they could be thrown in there right away. They have to perform. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We can’t wait on them. They just may have to go,” Coach Fedora says.

One of the most loaded positions heading into the fall appears to be at running back. With a healthy stable of speed burners and power backs at the UNC offense’s disposal, Coach Fedora should be relishing the scoring possibilities in the backfield.

But with so many options, who will receive the heaviest load of carries? Coach Fedora says for now, it’s still a running back-by-committee effort.

“At this point, it’s about getting all of them reps. We want to keep all of them healthy as possible, but also we want to get them valuable reps – reps where they’re learning something, not just going through the motions. For me, I don’t ever know who’s in there, don’t really care. Right now, we want to make sure we’re efficient with what we do and are moving the ball,” Coach Fedora says.

One of the pillars of the Coach Fedora regime at Carolina has always been special teams. Last season, return specialist Ryan Switzer basked in the national spotlight for his record-breaking performances.

Although overshadowed by Switzer’s electricity, punter Tommy Hibbard may prove just as vital to the fortunes of UNC in 2014. Coach Fedora, for one, continues to heap praise on the strong-legged senior from Charlotte.

Hibbard boots the ball (UNC Athletics)

Hibbard boots the ball (UNC Athletics)

“Tommy has a good leg and knows what we want to do. He understands all of our schemes. Today, we had three live reps, and all three of them he put inside the 10-yard line. He’s really trying to make himself the best punter he can be. He understands the situation. It’s not just practice. This is critical. This is how we pin people. He knows that and is taking it to heart,” Coach Fedora says.

The countdown to Carolina game day sits at ten days, and the storylines only continue to grow for the Tar Heels as promising upstarts like Jackson emerge, leaders like Farmer await future fates, and reliable special teams athletes like Hibbard hone their crafts.