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Close-Knit Tar Heels Test Offense, Showcase Defense in Scrimmage

By Matt Oakes Posted August 11, 2014 at 6:27 pm

The No. 23 North Carolina football team held its first fall preseason scrimmage last weekend in preparation for the 2014 kickoff in just 18 days. And in a somewhat surprising twist, it was the Tar Heel defense that made the most noise.

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Head coach Larry Fedora’s scrimmage evaluations are out. And so far at least, the defense has the early edge over the offense.

“It was sloppy in some areas. We had too many balls on the ground offensively. But on the other side of the football, the defense created some turnovers, which was a really good thing,” Coach Fedora says.

A disruptive defense is a positive sign for the UNC defensive unit that displayed steady improvement a year ago. The ability to create havoc in the opposing backfield and produce turnovers bodes well for Carolina’s chances moving forward in 2014.

In Saturday’s scrimmage, defensive tackle Ethan Farmer ran rampant in the backfield and stirred up fumbles, while safety Tim Scott snagged a pick-six.

But the offensive-minded Coach Fedora says objective one for his team is to take better care of the football.

“There was a common theme. There were too many balls on the ground. That was the common theme,” Coach Fedora says.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

Overall, though, Coach Fedora says the maiden scrimmage was a positive experience, especially for the underclassmen just getting their feet wet in big-time college football.

“It was a typical first one. Everybody’s effort was really good. We got a bunch of reps for some young kids that were swimming mentally. It was good for them to get out there and see themselves doing it,” Coach Fedora says.

On Saturday, the biggest question mark for Coach Fedora’s Tar Heels, the offensive line, validated a disappointing assumption the Carolina skipper had made earlier in the spring.

“The thing that I found out was that we don’t have enough depth, which I knew beforehand. The good thing is we’re getting a lot of learned reps – the guy gets out there and something else happens that he hasn’t seen yet in practice. That’s one more experience that he gets before we get to game time,” Coach Fedora says.

There is a bright spot up front on the offense, however. Coach Fedora says sophomore center Lucas Crowley is developing nicely in the preseason, growing steadily in confidence as he gets set to fill the big shoes left by Russell Bodine, who is now a member of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.

“You’re the quarterback of that offensive line. You have to be able to make every single call. You have to understand the tempo. On top of it, you have to get the ball back to the quarterback in the perfect position. It’s just a comfort level of doing it over and over that I think he’s finally got to, so now he can start excelling as a player,” Coach Fedora says.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics

The focus and intensity level is at a fever pitch on Navy Field right now, and a lot of that oozes from Coach Fedora. But he says he can sense a far greater belief out of this year’s squad thanks to the close bonds these Tar Heels have formed.

“They are enthusiastic and excited about the season. They know how much work they’ve put in to this year. They know they’re a closer team than we’ve been in the past with better team chemistry. It doesn’t mean we don’t have problems. There’s just a different feel amongst them. They’re excited about the potential,” Coach Fedora says.

That potential will look to be realized soon enough when the Tar Heels rush out of the Kenan Stadium tunnel Aug. 30 to take on the Liberty Flames under the lights.

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