UNC football notebook: 10 practices until spring game

When Brian Walker trotted off Navy Field two Fridays ago, the sophomore cornerback knew he'd just received a gift, no matter whom it was from — the University, coach Larry Fedora or even the football gods.

That gift was freedom.

March 7 marked the North Carolina football team's final practice before Spring Break. This meant for 10 days, Walker and his teammates could do as they pleased.

Most importantly, they could take their minds off football.

Running back T.J. Logan and wide receiver Quinshad Davis did so by catching a little sun at Panama City Beach.

But just days after being awarded some much-needed time off, Walker couldn't help it. His routine came rushing back. Football was on his mind.

"The first couple of days, you get to relax, get your mind off of it. But then that Monday, you gotta get back to work," Walker said. "Lifting, doing footwork drills. That's pretty much the main thing — trying to get better."

On Wednesday, the third practice since classes resumed and UNC players returned from break, that grind continued on Navy Field.

Drills. Offensive and defensive schemes. Sprints.

Can't forget coach Larry Fedora's signature post-practice huddle speech.

"You should know it," he yelled. "Everything that's been installed, you should know it!"

That's because time is ticking.

Only 10 more practices and 24 days separate the team from the annual spring game.

A competition of comfortability?

At the start of spring break, redshirt junior quarterback Marquise Williams packed his bags and headed west.

Destination? San Diego.

But it wasn't a vacation. It was a business trip.

Williams attended former player and coach George Whitfield's spring break quarterback camp, joining fellow signal callers such as Baylor's Bryce Petty and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly . Whitfield, who is currently training former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas for the NFL Draft, helped Williams improve his passing by perfecting his follow-through.

"My thing was just to go out and try to get better — working on my craft," Williams said. "I came back and I look more and more like the type of quarterback I want to be. I don't want people to just label me as that running quarterback. I want people to label me as 'Aw man, this guy is unbelievable. He can do it all. Run it and throw it.'

"It was a great spring break. It was just about football. That was my main key and right after spring ball I'll be heading right back to work on my craft."

Upon his arrival back to Chapel Hill, Williams returned not only to class and cold weather, but to his spring competition for the starting quarterback job with redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky.

Fedora said the more-seasoned Williams has a higher comfort level after starting five games last year while every rep is a new experience for Trubisky — The Associated Press' Mr. Football in the state of Ohio in 2012 as a senior at Mentor High School .

Trusbisky, who didn't see any in-game action last season, said the competition with Williams is a friendly one, but at the end of the day they both want the job.

"It's always business," Trubisky said. "This is college football at its highest level. Whether it's me or him, we gotta have fun. But at the same time it's a business mentality."

Hughes back in action

No player was likely more anxious to get back on the field this week than senior linebacker Travis Hughes.

After an altercation with a campus parking attendant in late January, Hughes faced assault charges and was immediately suspended from all team activities.

Come the first day of spring practice March 5, there was no player in a No. 9 UNC jersey running up and down the field and Fedora gave no update on the linebacker's situation.

But days later, Hughes took to Twitter to provide his own update.

On Wednesday, Hughes received the nod to practice for the first time this spring, again expressing his excitement in 140 characters.

Fedora said Hughes met the requirements to return to team activities.

"He's still got a few things that he's doing," he said, "but he's done everything I wanted him to do up to this point we reinstated him."

Last season, Hughes was fourth on the team in tackles with 76 and will be looking to play a vital veteran role for the Tar Heel defense, which lost many key leaders to graduation after UNC's 2013 campaign.

Keeping it going

There's no question that UNC ended the 2013 season with momentum.

After starting the year 1-5, the Tar Heels won five of their last six regular season games and claimed bowl eligibility by the skin of their teeth with a record of 6-6.

That momentum carried into the postseason with UNC taking a 39-17 win against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl.

But has it carried over into the spring? Fedora thinks it's too early to fully tell.

"I'd say in some spots we are with the guys that were returning, guys that had the experience," he said. "With the young guys that we're trying to get acclimated to the offense, the defense and the special teams, they're not there yet."

Regardless, sophomore punt returner and wide receiver Ryan Switzer sees the potential.

"We've got all the talent, all the ability. We had all the talent and ability last year. Obviously, as you guys saw, it takes more than that and that's what we're working on," he said. "I know me and the guys in my class and the guys that are coming in didn't come to Carolina to win six games and barely get to a bowl game.

"We're going to get over the hump. It's time for us to do that."

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