Renner, the comfortable captain

Leading up to North Carolina’s season opener against South Carolina, one name has been on the lips of every coach, player and analyst associated with the game.

Except for Bryn Renner’s.

“What’s his name?” Renner asked. “I thought he quit. I thought he retired early.”

Renner, of course, was joking. He knows exactly what’s coming for him Thursday night. Jadeveon Clowney will be gunning for him from the other side. Renner will be protected by an offensive line anchored by preseason first team All-ACC lineman James Hurst.

Renner enters the season with a year of a new playbook under his belt, looking nothing like the inconsistent signal caller from early last season.

A rocky start

In the beginning of the 2012 season, Renner’s three interceptions through the first three games showed he wasn’t completely comfortable making decisions in coach Larry Fedora’s new system. Renner had previously started under Everett Withers in a pro-style offense and threw for more than 3,000 yards in his sophomore season.

But in the first few games of Fedora’s inaugural year, Renner struggled to replicate the same production from the year before.

Renner admits to often forcing the offense, rather than trusting the plays to naturally develop.

“I was threading the needle when I didn’t have to, which is just my mentality that I had to grow out of,” Renner said. “I was trying to go for a deep ball here and there and really forcing my will on the offense.

“But I realized the offense is going to take care of itself if I do my job.”

Mowing through opponents

Learning a new playbook in the few weeks of the preseason is no easy feat, and Renner admits that the team often felt frenzied in trying to keep up with a frantic no-huddle offense.

But as the season went on, Renner comfortably settled into Fedora’s offense, and it showed. Renner threw 13 touchdowns in the final six games of the season.

The same playful personality shown at UNC’s pre-South Carolina interviews manifested on the field during the final stretch of 2012.

Renner, along with walk-on quarterback Caleb Pressley developed the ‘iMow’ touchdown celebration, a mime of mowing a lawn capped with a Tiger Woods-esque fist-pump. The duo were tight-lipped about the celebrations planned this season, but there’s a chance iMow will be reprised.

“If the game’s going well then I’ll bring it back,” he said.

A new Renner

This season, Renner said he feels much more confident heading into the season opener than he did a year ago.

“You feel so much more comfortable going to the line of scrimmage knowing where your read keys are for everybody,” Renner said.

His teammates are noticing.

“(Renner’s) really stepped up his game,” said tight end Eric Ebron. “He’s a lot more smooth, a lot more decisive, a lot more confident within himself.”

The key to his comfort? A couple talks with Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson.

By the conclusion of the season, Renner eclipsed T.J. Yates’ UNC record for single-season total offense with 3,394 yards.

At the end of this year’s preseason, Fedora named a laundry list of improvements in his starting quarterback.

“The ability to understand when he has to make the throws and when he doesn’t, when he has to punt, how you have to try to move the chains,” Fedora said. “All the big things in just managing a football game.”

While there’s one name frequently tossed around leading up to Thursday’s game, Renner is concerned with a different name: Tar Heels.

“The offense needed me to work that hard,” he said. “Everyday I want to prove to my team that this is my team.”

sports@dailytarheel.com

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