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April 13, 2012The Larry Fedora era began when he was introduced as the new football coach at Carolina, but the serious work began with the beginning of spring practice.
The spring game will start on Saturday at Kenan Stadium at 3 p.m., and everyone who comes out will get the chance to look at the new offense and defense Fedora is installing, schemes he promises will generate enormous excitement and many victories.
Fedora said there will be no kickoffs and when the punters kick the ball and the it is caught, play will end and the new line of scrimmage will begin at that point. Otherwise, Fedora is promising a football game.
"We want to come out it healthy, and we all these guys to come out and have fun," Fedora said. "Come out, fly around and play the game. That is the only two things I want out of it.
"I expect them to play hard," Fedora said. "I expect to fly around the football, have great energy, great passion, enthusiasm and play the game the way it's supposed to be played. That is all I want to see."
As for a finished product on offense and defense, Fedora said the Tar Heels are some ways from getting there. He does claim progress, nonetheless.
"Everybody understands what we want, but they don't understand the true speed of what we're going to get," Fedora said. "Some of it is a little bit of shock and awe to them. We're getting closer. [On Wednesday], we got 15 reps in a five-minute period, and that is what we're shooting for.
"We're getting closer to where we want to be," Fedora said. "If we could get maybe another 25 or 30 practices, we might be there. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. But we're a lot further along than where we started. The kids have a fairly good understanding of the base right now."
Fedora is doing more than coaching football. He is trying to resurrect a program hammered by scandal and NCAA sanctions. At this point, it does not matter what was fair, unfair or just to be expected. UNC will not play in a bowl, scholarships will be limited for three years, but all in all there is enough wiggle room for this team to make a huge contribution to the program and the future. It can also make a name for itself.
Auburn went 11-0 on probation. The Tigers did not get to play in a bowl game, but you better believe those were 11 of the sweetest victories ever achieved at a place where football is religion.
One of the keys to the new offense will be Sophomore running back Giovani Bernard.
He gained 1,253 yards last season, including 15 touchdowns. He became the first 1,000-yard rusher at a school renowned for them before a drought between Jon Linton in 1997 and Bernard.
Bernard claims this team has not focused on negatives, including the bowl band. He said the team has a theme: Blue Dawn, as in a new era.
"We're not even thinking about it," Bernard said. "We're not worried about what's going on after the season. We're all focusing on the season. We still have games to play. They can't take away the games that we have. We can show America what we have."
Bernard will get as good a chance as anyone. He's is explosive, elusive and has the rare talent of nimble feet and excellent vision that work in concert.
Fedora does not seem as if he is a coach to hand out unwarranted praise. He spoke eagerly about Bernard.
"Gio, you can tell from day one, day two, day three, he's a natural football player," Fedora said. "It doesn't matter what style of offense you are running. You put the ball in his hands, and he can make some plays. He can do special things with it."
Another really important player in this new offense is junior quarterback Bryn Renner. Renner had an outstanding first year as starter last season, particularly considering he was playing on an injured foot thought the season.
The rising junior played in all 13 games. He had a quarterback efficiency rating of 159.4. He completed 239 of 350 passes for 68.3-percent completion rate, 3086 yards and 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Renner underwent surgery in December to repair his left ankle, removing remove an anterior bone spur and a posterior accessory bone.
The injury gave him time to think about his career and his role in this new era of Carolina football, he said.
"I've pushed myself to the max this spring," Renner said. "I think after the bowl game and the surgery I really just put it upon myself to step up and be the leader of this team. Last year I could have done a better job of doing that, but this year I just want to prove my leadership skills and hone the offense.
"I've spent a lot of time in the film room, talking with [offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Blake] Anderson, trying to pick his brain and get the little nuances of this offenses."
Fedora said there is no doubt in his mind he has a special player in Renner.
"He's definitely a leader," Fedora "He has the intangibles. He has all the little things off the football we're looking for off the football field. He has that 'it' factor. Everybody says, 'Well, what is it.' I don't know what it is. When you have it in a quarterback, you have something special. He's got that 'it' factor.
"He understands the game. He understands how to extend plays. He understands the importance of being a student of the game."
On defense, senior Kevin Reddick said there is ample team speed, but the Tar Heels will not be able to unleash it fully until everyone gets adjusted to the new schemes. There is too much thinking happening at the moment.
"We've got some new guys who are really fast, but they have to know what to do," Reddick said. "Once everybody gets to know what they're doing, I think that is when everyone will be running fast."
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