What to know from North Carolina's football practice on Friday
With its season opener against California just over two weeks away, the North Carolina football team completed its 14th practice on Friday. Here are some takeaways from a hot and humid morning in Kenan Stadium.
Fedora's absence doesn't disrupt
Head coach Larry Fedora was out of town on Wednesday, appearing in Nashville, Tenn., for UNC’s hearing with the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The trip didn’t disrupt his team’s schedule, though.
Since the Tar Heels are mandated to take one practice day off every week, they did that on Wednesday. Fedora came back on Wednesday night to make Thursday morning’s practice.
“There wasn’t much I enjoyed about it, to be honest with you,” Fedora said of his trip. “I’d rather have been here with my team.”
Rodgers is back
On August 5, offensive guard Khaliel Rodgers announced his retirement from football. As of this morning, the graduate transfer is back on UNC’s team and listed on the team’s roster online.
“He was taking care of some personal business,” Fedora said. “So he’s back with us right now.”
When Rodgers retired, it came as a shock to his teammates and coaches. He did not inform Fedora of his decision, which was announced in a Facebook post. Less than two weeks before his decision, a Boston University study found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease, in 110 of 111 former NFL players’ brains that researchers examined.
Rodgers comes back to the team as a likely candidate to start at guard for the Tar Heels. Fedora said in an earlier practice that the only three definite starters on the offense were wide receiver Austin Proehl, left tackle Bentley Spain and center Cam Dillard. UNC’s offense line will now be even more of a strength — if Rodgers can get back on track.
“You’ve got to think there’s a lot of things he missed out on,” Fedora said. “You would think there’s a lot of catching up. We’ll have to wait and see when he gets in some live situations.”
Scrimmage will determine starters
Fedora and defensive coordinator John Papuchis both mentioned tomorrow’s scrimmage, which is unavailable to media, as an important day for the entire team.
“You’re going to be out there live on the field in a game situation,” Fedora said. “Coaches will be evaluating hard. We’ve got to start making some tough decisions soon.”
The scrimmage could be a key factor in determining a starting quarterback. But, for now, no decision has been made and all four candidates for the job — Brandon Harris, Nathan Elliott, Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd — are still getting reps.
In the secondary, senior M.J. Stewart has been a lock at cornerback all summer, as has senior Donnie Miles at safety. And sophomore safety Myles Dorn, who’s been complimented all offseason, will be the third starter.
As for the second cornerback and final starting position, Papuchis said he’s looking for consistency. He mentioned Corey Bell Jr., Tre Shaw and Patrice Rene as possibilities.
“And if you want to start at the bare fundamental level,” he added, “who’s not going to get the ball thrown their way.”
Some interesting drills
In the first 30 minutes of practice, North Carolina ran through a play that its fans should remember well.
The offense lined up in the shotgun and ran what looked to be a read option. After taking a few steps, though, the running back would turn around and toss the ball back to his quarterback. The same play worked perfectly against Duke in 2015, when Marquise Williams hit Ryan Switzer for an 89-yard touchdown on his team’s first offensive play.
The defensive backs, linebackers and defensive linemen all participated in a forced-fumble drill. Players would wrap up their teammates then punch the ball out with their right hand. This is something Papuchis highlighted as one key for the defense he’s leading for the first time this year.
“The four things we are going to focus on — and we always focus on — are takeaways, our tackles for loss versus their explosive plays, our red-zone defense and our third-down defense,” he said.