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August 20, 2012

Delving into great unknown

No one, not even the coaching staff that brought the new offensive and defensive schemes to UNC, nor the players who are working so hard to learn and execute them, know what they will get in the opening game of the 2012 football season.

The playbooks are too new for anyone to be certain what will happen on game day.

"You always feel thin," offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said, "but I feel we're even more thin than usual because of the transition of one type of scheme to the other."

The Tar Heels ended summer camp on Monday and will play Elon in the season-opener on Sept. 1 at 12:30 p.m. at Kenan Stadium.

"We're still not exactly sure how to lineup and play at the tempo we want to," Anderson said. "We're dealing with signals rather than going to the huddle. That's an issue for skill guys. That concerns me. It's scary. It always has been."

Then there are the injuries that have plagued this team from the spring forward. Some players such as senior offensive tackle Brennan Williams are only just now getting healthy and going at full speed.

"I'm just kind of getting the strength back in my leg," Williams said. "I haven't been able to do that much in the offseason. So it's just been testing it out (in camp), being confident."

Then there have been a variety of injuries at wide receiver, a position that is vital to the success of this new offense.

"We had some injuries we're battling through, but we're starting to get some guys back," Anderson said. "We have some young guys who are starting to fill in and make you feel like maybe we have a little more depth than we thought. These young guys are going to play earlier than maybe we thought."

So it is good or bad that some younger guys will be on the field quicker than the staff imagined? Who knows in all honesty?

Yet not knowing means just that: No one can be sure. It does not mean this team is doomed to failure.

The team could come out and surprise a stadium full of people with how well it executes on both sides of the ball.

For one, there is the positive aspect of the team's attitude. From the outset, this group has expressed a good attitude in the way it has done everything asked of it to the best of the players' ability. These guys want to be good; they wanted to play well for themselves, their school and their new coaches.

While that does not assure success, it has to increase the odds the Tar Heels will at least have some moments in which they will perform well and play the scheme as if they have been doing so a lot longer than just a spring practice and a summer camp.

The result of this positive attitude was reflected in the most recent scrimmage.

Coach Larry Fedora said that he loved what he saw in the team's desire to perform well. He also saw a group plunge through 170 plays, an unheard-of number for this new spread offense and 4-2-5 defense.

"Overall just the effort," Fedora said of what he liked. "When you get 170 plays in, not counting all the special-teams reps, I thought their effort was extremely good. I didn't think they would hold up the way they did for that amount of time."

The biggest unknown comes from the volume of plays Carolina will try to run. There is no way the Tar Heels can put a small group on the field on either side of the ball and hope to have a team that is not drained by the fourth quarter. The volume of work is just too great.

"We had guys who played 70 snaps on the defensive line [in the last scrimmage]," Fedora said. "Hopefully that never happens in a game.

"Depth is a big-time worry for us," Fedora said. "We have a lot of guys who may be out there at this point who probably don't deserve to be out there, but we don't have a choice.

"We've got to get them to the point where they earned the right to be out there."

In the meantime, they will hope the team will be as healthy as it has been at anytime since spring practice began and whatever this group does, it will do with genuine enthusiasm and a passion for the game.


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