The Tar Heels’ 2014 football team reports for preseason training camp on Thursday, has its first practice on Friday and will stage its annual “Meet the Heels” gathering on Saturday from 4-6 p.m.
Among the questions bantered about during the long summer build-up to the season that will begin to get some answers over the coming month are the following:
* Who will be the starting quarterback? That’s easy—barring injury or total collapse, Marquise Williams is the No. 1 quarterback, the challenge from freshman Mitch Trubisky notwithstanding. Williams’ evolution from this time one year ago, when he was almost an afterthought having missed spring ball 2013, is extraordinary. But the competition is making both better players, and we’ll get an early look at Trubisky and his outstanding arm as the season unfolds.
* How will the Tar Heels navigate a difficult schedule? This is Carolina’s toughest schedule in some time, but before we dig into the meat of it, consider the first three games a “mini-season.” Home games against Liberty and San Diego State and a road trip to East Carolina are pivotal in establishing some momentum and building a cushion for the grind of September and October that have the Heels traveling to Clemson, Notre Dame, Virginia and Miami. Two opening wins will set Carolina up well for its trip to Greenville, and make no mistake after last year’s 55-31 thrashing from Pirates, this game will have the Heels’ undivided attention.
* How well will the O-line develop? That’s the most important issue facing this team. The early departure of center Russell Bodine plus the graduation of James Hurst leaves big holes. The staff is recruiting well with four solid prospects joining the team this fall and commitments in hand for six for National Signing Day 2015. Meanwhile, though, junior Landon Turner is rock around which the blocking front must jell—and quickly.
* And after the first two years of the Fedora Era establishing a clear template for what to expect on offense and special teams, can the defense stiffen beyond two years of allowing an average of 396 yards and 25 points a game?
“This is our third year in this system,” senior safety Tim Scott says. “We’ve been learning a new defense. Of course, you’re not going to get every part down the first year. Maybe not even the second. We’ve learned it bit by bit. Now in the third year, we have the defense down, we’re not thinking as much and we can actually play comfortably.”
The defense is older and deeper than it’s been. At least a half dozen key players will be seniors, and four of the best players in the secondary are sophomores or freshmen. It bodes for steady progress.
“This year we can finally grasp our potential and reach it,” junior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer says. “Some magazines have predicted us to win the Coastal. It’s cool to see it. Now we’ve got to make it happen on the field.”