Anderson Gives UNC Firepower, Excitement
By Matthew Osborne
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New UNC offensive coordinator Blake Anderson says that the Tar Heels are transitioning well to his up-tempo scheme.
In recent years, the North Carolina Tar Heels have been a program noted for their ability to produce NFL talent on the defensive side of the ball.
While the Tar Heels have been able to produce a fair share of NFL athletes on the offensive side of the football (T.J. Yates, Willie Parker and Hakeem Nicks, to name a few), there is no doubt that defense is where North Carolina has hung its hat.
With the hiring of former Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora to fill the Tar Heels’ open coaching vacancy at the end of the 2011 campaign, the UNC administration served up a notice that they were ready for their program to go on the offensive….literally.
Joining Fedora at UNC is former Southern Miss offensive coordinator Blake Anderson, who will hold the same position in Chapel Hill.
Anderson, who led the Golden Eagles to top 20 finishes in both scoring offense and total offense in each of his final two seasons in Hattiesburg, inherits a veteran and experienced group of offensive players in Chapel Hill, as the Tar Heels return eight players from a year ago, including QB Bryn Renner and RB Giovani Bernard.
Even with a surplus of veteran players at his disposal, Anderson, as well as the rest of UNC’s offensive coaching staff, will face the unenviable challenge of teaching a new offensive system to the Tar Heel players. The Tar Heels have used a pro-style attack for the better part of the last decade, but will be switching to an up-tempo, spread offense under the direction of Anderson.
Although it is sure to be a lengthy and sometimes arduous process, Anderson believes that his players have handled the transition exceptionally well up to this point.
“For the most part, I’d say pretty well,” Anderson responded when asked how the UNC players have responded to the new offensive scheme. “I would say that they transitioned well and showed really good signs in the last couple weeks of spring ball. We’re far from being really good at it yet, but there were signs of improvement and understanding in the fact that guys have a grasp of what we are trying to do.”
The players’ ability to pick up the offense at an advanced rate allowed Anderson to install basically all of his base offense during the Tar Heels’ 15 allotted spring practices.
While the offense will continue to add new wrinkles throughout summer camp, Anderson says that he has already installed enough of his offense to call a full game if the Tar Heels were to play today.
A big reason that the transition has gone so smoothly for the UNC players is the leadership provided to them by incumbent starting quarterback Bryn Renner.
Renner, who threw for 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, has been touted as a potential NFL prospect, and he impressed his new offensive coordinator with his abilities this spring.
“He’s got all the skill level you need a guy to have,” Anderson said of his signal-caller. “I think he’s got a chance to be really good. He needs to continue to progress and have a better understanding of what we do, but I think he’s got a good overall grasp. I just think reps and getting the opportunity are going to help him make those subtle decisions that will help him be a complete player.”
While the spread offense is often associated with a pass-heavy attack, Anderson’s offenses have always excelled at being exceptionally balanced. Last season, Southern Miss was one of just 14 teams in the nation to average more than 200 yards per game in both rushing and passing.
What that means for Tar Heel fans is that they can expect to continue to see a heavy dosage of carries for star running back Giovani Bernard.
Bernard, who led all FBS freshman in rushing yardage last season, is likely to see an increase in his number of carries this year, as Anderson’s up-tempo scheme will result in more plays being ran by the offense.
That is good news for a UNC rushing attack which finished last season ranked 76th in the nation in rushing yardage (138.8 yards per game), despite the presence of an All-ACC first-team performer in the backfield.
“I know he had a great year last year, but I’d like to think that as he develops and gets stronger that he’s going to improve,” Anderson commented on Bernard. “Also, I think the fact that we play a faster tempo and are going to get more snaps; we are going to create more opportunities. I think he’s just getting better every day, and I’d like to think that we haven’t seen the best of him.”
Running behind an offensive line filled with future NFL stars, there is certainly great reason to believe that the Tar Heels will improve their rushing numbers from a year ago.
G Jonathan Cooper and T James Hurst will anchor a UNC offensive line which could be the best assembly of talent the Tar Heels have had up front in the last decade. Travis Bond and Brennan Williams are also veteran players who have played a lot of snaps for the Tar Heels during their respective careers.
With a plethora of experienced players who seem to be picking up his system rather quickly, Anderson sees no reason to think that his Tar Heel offense will not experience immediate success this fall.
For a comparison, Clemson’s offense thrived after new offensive coordinator Chad Morris installed his offense last season. The Tar Heels are hoping that a similar resurgence will be seen in Chapel Hill in 2012.
As Anderson continues to prepare for what will be an extremely important summer camp for his offensive players, North Carolina fans across the nation are already enamored by the endless possibilities of this new offense.
Anderson, for one, knows what those UNC fans should expect to see out of his unit when they journey to Kenan Stadium for the season opener against Elon.
“I think we’ll be fun to watch. What I would like to see is that we play fast and that we play hard. If our tempo is fast and our energy level is high, it is a fun offense to be involved in, both as a player and as a fan. If somebody was going to define you, you want it to that you play hard, and that is something that we pride ourselves on.”