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August 22, 2013
Thursday marks the one-week point before North Carolina opens the 2013 season in Columbia against South Carolina, and in order to help prepare for the entire experience, head coach Larry Fedora indicated that the Tar Heels will go through an extensive gameday walkthrough today in Chapel Hill.
"We'll do everything. We'll do a pre-game meal. We'll do the entire thing, the 'Victory Walk,' we'll do it all, so all these guys that haven't been in the program will understand what's expected. We'll do every situation that could come up in the game that we can think of," Fedora said after Wednesday's practice.
"We'll do all the kicking, throughout the flow of the game, to try to find out where our problems are communication-wise, all the things that could come up."
Every day at practice the Tar Heels have background music playing loudly through the speakers at nearby Navy Field. Although it can't fully simulate what it will be like on the field against the Gamecocks, it is intended to help the players focus in and perform in the midst of intense noise.
"Obviously we practice with noise every single day. You hope that's not going to be as big a factor. It'll still be a factor. That place (Williams-Brice Stadium), their fans do a great job. It'll be loud. And we expect our guys to be able to concentrate through noise, . That's what we do every day. That's one of the reasons that we play music (during practice) non-stop, is that you have to learn how to focus through the outside noise."
With the Tar Heels closing in on gameday, the coaches are much more secure with the depth, and who they can expect to be on the field. Some guys, such as A.J. Blue and a few others, aren't quite 100 percent, but should be good to go next week.
"I don't know if he (Blue) is 100 percent today, but I don't think there's any doubt he'll be 100 percent by the 29th. The way the coaches are bringing him along. He'll be fine."
The right tackle position is still up for grabs, though on Wednesday Jon Heck was working with the starters at the position, and both Nick Appel and Kiaro Holts were getting second-team reps while John Ferranto was the top backup at left tackle.
"I'd have to talk to Kap (offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic about right tackle). There were still guys rolling in there, so I'm not sure if he's made a decision or not."
In the kickoff and punt return game, the Tar Heels are getting closer to knowing who's going to be back catching balls and looking to improve UNC's starting field position.
The return of T.J. Thorpe has eased the situation this summer, but true freshman Ryan Switzer and some older players are also stepping up and could be returning kicks and punts over the course of the season.
"Right now I've got T.J. Thorpe and (Ryan) Switzer working in (at punt returner)," he said. "If we went today I'd probably put T.J. Thorpe back there. He's got the experience and is pretty comfortable back there. I've been working (Tim) Scott a little bit too. He looks like he's pretty solid handling the ball, so I wouldn't have a problem putting him back there too.
"Kickoff return, we haven't made the call. You've still got Tapley. Tim Scott has done some good things. T.J. Thorpe, Switzer, Romar Morris. I feel comfortable right now (with the numbers). A s far as picking out the top two, I don't know yet. I didn't say I feel good (about the situation). I feel comfortable. I feel comfortable that I've got somebody back there. Now who I'm going to pick? I don't know yet."
Fedora also touched on a couple of veterans, Sean Tapley and Norkeithus Otis, who he thought were two of the guys who had the best training camps of anyone else on the team.
"Tapley, I would say between him and (Norkeithus) Otis, those are two guys who have had the best camps out of anybody if I had to pick two guys out," he said.
"Tapley, one of the things we talked about with him was being consistent and not having ups and downs. He really has had a very consistent camp. He had something with a finger and it was taped up to another one, and never looked at that as an excuse to miss a ball. He adjusted well and made plays."
A good August turned into a great August earlier this week for Tapley when he proposed to his girlfriend at the Old Well in the heart of the UNC campus to become engaged to be married.
But when Coach Fedora went to congratulate him before Wednesday's practice, Tapley's mind was already focused completely back on the gridiron.
"He (Tapley) had a great day (Tuesday)," said Fedora. "My understanding is all the other receivers knew what was going on, and they were in that area (around the Old Well) hiding around."
"I saw a picture. That's all I got to see. Everybody on the whole team is really fired up for him. They were excited in the team meeting about him and what he's done. We're proud of him."
"I told him 'Congratulations' (before Wednesday's practice) and he (Tapley) said, 'I've got other things to worry about right now,' but yeah, that's just because it was right before practice. You have to appreciate that about him right now. That's just the way he is. He's locked in right now," Fedora added.
Along with the improved play of Tapley and Otis, Fedora also praised some of the returning wide receivers for being vocal and encouraging to their teammates during workouts.
Kendrick Singleton is the guy who is the most vocal. Just watching him and who's doing the talking out there and who's encouraging guys, he does a really nice job of it. Quinshad (Davis) does also. Both those kids are doing a nice job."
Fedora admitted that he has occasionally goofy and comical relationships with his players off the field, as he enjoys building relationships with his players that's not entirely involved around football.
"I pick on a lot of them (the UNC players). I mean, that's a big part of why I do what I do. I love being around these guys. I love them. The problems they go through at this age, the hardships they have to overcome, the different things, but I love the relationship that I have with these guys. They pick on me. I pick on them. And we have fun with it."
But at the same time, once the Tar Heels are on the field Fedora is all business, and the players seem to get that.
"They know when we get out here on the field I'm not picking on them. I'm riding them pretty hard, you know, and it's a whole different thing."
Certainly the Tar Heel players are hopeful that Fedora isn't riding them a week from now in Columbia, and all the preparations they've made Thursday and throughout the summer are naturally intended to limit those angry moments for their coach once the season gets going for real.