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Friday May 20th

Beleaguered kicking game vows to improve

<p>North Carolina kicker Nick Weiler (24) makes a field goal attempt. He is fighting for a starting spot.</p>
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North Carolina kicker Nick Weiler (24) makes a field goal attempt. He is fighting for a starting spot.

Kickoff duty, to be more specific. But that’s where promises end for the specialists.

Redshirt freshman Corbin Daly is expected to start at punter, but junior Joey Mangili is also vying for the spot.

At place-kicker, Weiler and redshirt freshman Freeman Jones remain in serious contention.

But Fedora does not plan on making, or at least announcing, any final decision until the opening game versus South Carolina on Sept. 3.

“(The competition) is still close. We haven’t made a decision yet,” Fedora said. “But how close? I don’t know. We still have a ways to go.”

Weiler and Jones hope to improve a kicking game that struggled heavily in 2014. The team only converted six field goals, and the longest was 30 yards — good for 125th and 128th in the nation, respectively.

“Last year, there was reluctance if it was more than 10 (yards),” Fedora said. “I can’t say that was good. I can’t say I had complete confidence every single time those guys went out there.

“But I can tell you this: We’ve been much better this camp. I feel better about where those guys are at this point.”

Weiler made five out of eight field goals in 2014. Jones has yet to attempt a kick at the collegiate level, but he did come to UNC ranked by 247Sports as the No. 5 place-kicker in the class of 2014.

With Thomas Moore and Weiler exchanging kicking duties a season ago, Jones spent his redshirt season getting acclimated to the environment.

Now, he is learning how to approach stiff competition.

“I try to worry about myself really; that’s about all I can do,” Jones said. “I can’t really control anything (Weiler) is doing. I just come out and try to run the plan that I have and go from there.”

The punters face a different issue. Daly or Mangili will be tasked with replacing three-year starter Tommy Hibbard, who was an All-ACC honorable mention in 2013 and named to the All-ACC Second Team in 2012.

Daly entered UNC ranked as the second-best punter in the class of 2014, according to 247Sports. And similar to Jones, he spent his first year in Chapel Hill learning from the sideline.

“(Hibbard) was definitely a great punter,” Daly said. “But I’m looking forward to see what comes. I’m ready to ball out and hit some bombs.”

Daly’s mentality epitomizes the special teams unit entering this season. Although their positions are not promised, each player is willing to make the same guarantees — there will be improvement, and there will be points scored.

“I know that the special teams unit as a whole will be ready to do well,” Weiler said.

“We will be a weapon for the team this season.”

@BenColey15

sports@dailytarheel.com



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