Heading into the final week of spring practice, the Tar Heels are far more settled as a team across the board in terms of expectations, tempo and playbook familiarity.
"If you think about where we were last year at this time and compare it to now, it's a big difference," Larry Fedora says. "Everyone understands now what we're doing. Now it's about mastering your craft, perfecting what you do. Last spring our guys were just trying to learn what to do."
Three freshmen who enrolled in January have made noticeable impacts--quarterback Mitch Trubisky, tailback Khris Francis and receiver Jordan Fieulleteau. Trubisky has moved up the depth chart and is challenging Kanler Coker for the No. 2 position behind Bryn Renner. Francis has shown remarkable burst and quickness and will get some opportunities behind A.J. Blue and Romar Morris and in the kick-return game. And Fieulleteau has outstanding hands and catching ability and could find playing time as the Tar Heels lost two senior receivers.
"Mitch has picked things up very quickly," offensive coordinator Blake Anderson says of the newcomer from Mentor, Ohio. "From the time he got here in January to spring ball, he did a great job on his own working with the resources available to him--the film room, playbook, iPad, all the notes we had for him. He prepared and knew what to do when he got out here. He's protected the ball very well, hasn't turned it over much. When he does make a mistake, he rarely makes it again."
Carolina has personnel concerns in many places, particularly along the offensive line, where three seniors graduated, and at nearly ever spot on defense, which was thin last year and lost leaders Kevin Reddick and Sly Williams to graduation.
Fedora also has a keen eye out for who the 2013 squad leaders are going to be.
"You worry about leadership on both sides of the ball," Fedora said as spring ball begin in early March. "This time of the year--winter conditioning, spring ball, through the summer--that's when your leaders are going to emerge. Some guys will maybe sit back because of senior leadership from the previous year and not really step forward. Now they have to step forward. You look for times of adversity for when they step up. Everyone can do it in the meeting room. But it's when things aren't going right, who's going to step up? That's when true leaders emerge."
After the Tar Heels traveled to Charlotte in late March for a full-scale scrimmage, the head coach voiced similar worries.
"We were not as sharp as we needed to be, we had too many missed assignments, and I did not see enough leadership when things weren't going good on both sides of the ball," Fedora says. "That's something we've got to improve on in our next scrimmage."