Tar Heels Adjusting to the Spread
By Stuart Barefoot
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Completing passes in a new offense should not present much of a challenge for Bryn Renner, as he completed 239 of his 350 attempts last season.
Everyone knows what Larry Fedora is bringing to the University of North Carolina: the spread offense. Much like Gary Williams' flex offense, Phil Jackson with the triangle offense, or Tony LaRussa batting pitchers eighth in the lineup, it’s what we have grown accustom to seeing out of Fedora. Just because the opposition will know what is coming, however, does not mean that they will be able to stop it. For theTar Heels, learning the new, fast-paced offense has been challenging, but not impossible.
The reason it has not been impossible is that UNC boasts an impressive group of offensive players that seem to be embracing the new coach and his offense.
“We really took it upon ourselves to soak in everything” said QB Bryn Renner. “I think we’ve done a great job adapting and [it] can only get better from here.”
During an interview with the ACC Network, Renner said he felt like he was a good fit for Fedora’s new system.
“I think Coach Fedora and Coach Anderson are just looking for a guy who can get completions. That’s what I’m going to try to do this year.”
Completing passes should not present much of a challenge for Renner, as he completed 239 of his 350 attempts (68.3%) last season.
Despite losing Dwight Jones, the top receiver from a year ago, UNC has a guy who can fill his shoes. Erik Highsmith returns as the likely “go-to" playmaker in the passing game. Having caught 51 passes for 726 yards and five touchdowns a year ago, he’ll be an asset for sure.
While a key element of the spread offense is utilizing the receivers, in order to truly “spread” out the defense, the running game will be equally important for Carolina, as it has been for years now. The running game was likely to remain important for Carolina this season regardless of who the new offensive coordinator was ,if for no other reason than the fact that Giovanni Bernard returns. Coming off a season where he rushed for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns, he may be the second most important player on offense behind Renner. Backup running backs Ryan Houston and A.J Blue will also bring experience to the table, which, to state the obvious, is something no coach will frown upon.
A lot of people hear the phrase “spread offense” and immediately categorize it as a pass-first offense. It’s not always entirely wrong to think that way, but as Fedora and Renner pointed out during the ACC Media Days, the Tar Heels will utilize their running game as much as they do their passing game. Renner noted that the spread offense can have balance, and that really is the key to their offensive approach…”balance.” The balance will begin with Renner and his ability to read the defense and improvise at the line of scrimmage. Whether they pass or run is a decision that he has to make when he lines up under center. This is a drastic change from a year ago, when a lot of his plays were scripted.
While UNC fans have reason to feel good about their new look offense and the energetic coach behind it, there are a few factors that have been swept under the rug. The biggest factor is, while UNC players have worked hard to adapt to Fedora’s system and learn this new offense, they are still guys recruited by Butch Davis for his style of play. It may take a few seasons worth of recruiting for Fedora to get his ideal team in place.
Secondly, there isn’t a ton of depth on this team. That isn’t just conjecturing either. Fedora told the media, “There’s not enough depth in our program right now.” For a coach who seems to enjoy exciting the media and firing up fans, it’s likely this is a serious concern for him. A team that has a talented core of players but no depth, is constantly one or two injuries away from having their season unravel.
Every team has its share of problems on and off the field. For UNC, the off the field issues are mostly behind them, and their main focus is now the 2012 season, and learning the spread offense.