Four January enrollees and two new defensive assistant coaches will get their first tastes of Tar Heel football this week as Coach Larry Fedora and his squad begin spring practice. The first workout is scheduled to begin at 3:50 p.m. Wednesday on Navy Field and continue through mid-April with the annual Blue-White Game at 3 p.m. on April 13.
As always, Lettermen are welcome to attend practice and are asked to call ahead to the Football Office at 919/966-2575 to put their name on the practice attendance list.
Practices are scheduled for Wednesday and Friday this week, then the team breaks along with the UNC campus for spring break. The team will return for workouts March 18, 20, 22, 25, 27, April 1, 3, 8, 10 and 12 in Chapel Hill. The squad will travel to Mallard Creek High Charlotte on Thursday March 28 and to Grimsley High in Greensboro Friday April 5; those two practices are open to the public.
The departure of assistant coaches Dave Duggan to Southern Miss and Deke Adams to South Carolina prompted Fedora to hire two coaches with whom he or other current staff members have had a long association.
Ron West will be the new linebackers coach, coming to the Tar Heels from Arizona State. West coached with Fedora at Baylor in the mid-1990s and with current defensive assistants Vic Koenning and Dan Disch at Illinois in 2010.
Keith Gilmore is the new defensive line coach, moving from Illinois, where he had been for four years. This new staff of Koenning, Disch, West and Gilmore was together for one full season at Illinois in 2010.
Koenning, the assistant head coach for defense, will now coach safeties. Disch will coach cornerbacks.
Randy Jordan will continue to coach running backs and will add the responsibility of special teams coordinator.
Four members of the Tar Heel signing class from a month ago are January enrollees and will be participating this spring: offensive lineman R.J. Prince, quarterback Mitch Tribisky, running back Khris Francis and receiver Jordan Fieulleteau.
The Tar Heels will open spring ball knowing exactly when and what time their season-opener will be. It was confirmed last week that the Heels will play at South Carolina on Thursday Aug. 29 and announced on Tuesday the game will kick-off at 6 p.m. It will be shown nationally on ESPN.
Certainly one of the interesting story lines this spring will be the redevelopment of an offensive line that loses Jonathan Cooper, Brennan Williams and Travis Bond to graduation. But one of the two returnees is a potential all-star in left tackle James Hurst, who will have the responsibility of blocking Gamecock standout Jadeveon Clowney in the season opener.
Bowl season highlight reels in early January featured Clowney's tackle, strip and recovery against Michigan, a play that left Wolverine runner Vincent Smith without his wits or his helmet. Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson thinks the Tar Heels' arsenal of tempos and the ability of Hurst will make for terrific entertainment come late August.
"That was a great play, for sure, and Clowney will make his plays in our game," Anderson says. "But Michigan was perfect for a guy like him. They play slow, they huddle up, they give him a chance to get his toe in the ground. You talk about a perfect environment. You take a great athlete and let him get dug in, and he'll have a field day.
"We'll run him one side to the other, trap him, cut him and screen him. We're going to try to create an environment where he's uncomfortable. He'll make his plays, but he's going to have to work for them. And I think Hurst will hold up. I think he'll have a great game. Clowney's a top NFL pick, but Hurst is a first-round guy, too. I think it will be a heavyweight fight over there."