Eight days and one scrimmage into UNC’s fall training camp, if there’s one thing clear about head coach Larry Fedora’s Tar Heel offense—it’s that nothing is very clear.
Fedora was in peak form following practice on Thursday, answering a crowd of reporters bluntly when asked if there’s been any separation on that side of the ball to this point—at any position on the depth chart.
“No,” the coach said, matter-of-factly. “No clarity yet.”
Four quarterbacks are still competing to win the starting job. No skill position player other than senior wide receiver Austin Proehl is a lock to earn a spot in the starting lineup. Coaches also decided during this week’s scrimmage to move freshman Kayne Roberts from linebacker into the tailback competition.
The offensive line also lost three starters following last season, and is now dealing with the sudden retirement of graduate transfer Khaliel Rodgers—who was expected to compete for a large role.
This represents an obvious roadblock for Fedora, a coach who has made his name by putting together some of the nation’s top offenses year in and year out.
He admitted on the first day of camp that he will be more hands-on with the offense this year than he has in years past.
Still, though, he won’t allow these issues to influence the team’s yearly goals—which have always been to win the ACC Coastal Division and the mythical state championship.
“That won’t change year to year,” Fedora said. “We’ve got some pretty set goals on what we want to accomplish in this program, and our guys understand what those are.”
Throughout the early portion of training camp, a common theme among the defensive players is how motivated they are to finally be the group with higher expectations.
Senior defensive end Dajaun Drennon acknowledged that fact on Thursday, but also provided his perspective on what he sees from an offense fighting tooth-and-nail each day to prove their worth.
“I feel like the offense, they’re playing with a chip on their shoulder,” Drennon said. “Everybody talks about how we don’t have Mitch Trubisky, TJ Logan, Mack Hollins, Bug Howard and so on and so forth.
“They have something that they have to prove,” he continued. “They want to show people that we don’t necessarily need those guys. They can step up and be a force too.”
Linebacker Cole Holcomb—the Tar Heels’ leading tackler last season—has made similar observations.
“You see a lot guys out there clawing and fighting for positions,” Holcomb told reporters. “We know they’re not about to take a play off when I’m out there—especially when they get to go against the [starting defense].
“That’s their time to go make some plays,” he added. “Seeing some of the young guys, you know they’re gonna give you the best they’ve got.”
For UNC in 2017, the offense—and defense, for that matter–will of course have to give it the best they’ve got in order to maximize their potential.
That much is a given, as any football coach in the world will tell you.
The truth of the matter, however, is that without any type of lineup clarity—it’s impossible for Fedora to know what maximizing this team’s potential means.
A team littered with underclassmen, graduate transfers and a quarterback who has never started a game in his offense isn’t exactly the recipe to compete for a conference title in arguably the toughest league in America.
But here’s the thing.
Many of the players competing for spots are untested, but could very well turn into impact players—such as true freshman Beau Corrales, a 6-foot-4-inch receiver who has drawn rave reviews during his first camp.
Sophomore tailback Jordon Brown is another player to keep an eye on, after a strong performance in last year’s bowl loss to Stanford.
Regardless of how many games UNC wins or loses, the development of players like Corrales and Brown—not to mention whoever takes over at quarterback—has a great chance to define how this season goes for the Tar Heels.
That may be the only thing clear about them right now.
Photo via Avery Trendel