A Spring of Improvement

There are only fifteen days of spring practice, and with two practices now complete, Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels head into this week's Spring Break looking to make the most of its remaining opportunities when the players return to campus.
As Fedora steps into his second year as head coach of the Tar Heels he looks to move past the adversity of the 2012 team to create a new identity for 2013.
"We don't get any credit for what we did last year, we're starting from scratch with the 2013 season," said Fedora following the first spring practice last week.
With an established brand---play smart, play fast, play physical---Fedora looks for a way to set this team apart from the others.
Compared to last year, Fedora and the players agreed that this year's first practice was a complete 180 degree turn.
"It went well (the first practice)," said rising senior tailback A.J. Blue. "I was really impressed overall with the team. Everybody was moving around, so I thought it went pretty good."
"The first practice was great, actually. It went smoother than previous years. (Wednesday) was just a great day. Everybody flew around the ball. Everybody just flew around," said rising sophomore back Romar Morris.
"I think this spring should go smoother than last year because everybody knows what to do for the most part. And everybody is learning. There's a couple of freshmen here. Everybody is learning the new playbook."
"I think it's night and day. I think we really didn't know where to go the first spring practice last year, and this was probably one of our best practices. So we're going to build from this day forward," added rising senior quarterback Bryn Renner.
"I think we've gotten a lot better as far as learning the system. I think this was our best first practice as far as just knowing where we need to go and doing what we need to do. I think we're getting better day to day, and the offseason really paid off."
It's clear Fedora wants to focus on technique this spring, and with the players more comfortable both with the coaches and with each other, the learning curve is less steep.
Fedora's established relationship with the team allows the concentration to be on getting better.
Fedora is not alone in his plans to focus on getting better.
It is evident that team leaders such as Blue, Renner, and others want to work together to create a core team dynamic and continue to build this spring from the first week forward.
"We're anticipating to move faster. We now understand the concept. We now understand how fast our offense is and what it does to a defense. So going into this year, we know our defense is going to have to be even more," added Blue.
"Just the speed of our offense, the total points we score, the total yards we got, I think that's going to carry over a lot (into this season). Because we now anticipate speed. We're anticipating having the defensed tired. We're anticipating winning. So I think all that will go into next year," Blue continued.
With little doubt, the infamous punt return by Gio Bernard against N.C. State left the players focusing more on the importance of special teams, and naturally Fedora and the other UNC coaches want to emphasize how imperative they are as well in the coming weeks.
"Special teams is a big part. Everybody wants to become a special teams player," said Morris. "Last year Gio was the punt returner. I might try punt returning this year to see if I can do a better job.'
"Special teams is definitely a key to winning. I've started on special teams, and I had never played special teams up until I got here (to UNC) and really up until last year, and I realized that it was a valuable part to the team's success. So I took part in it. A lot of guys knew it would help the team win.," added Blue.
The new freshmen who enrolled for the spring semester are another important aspect of the new 2013 team.
The early enrollees participating in spring practice, including quarterback Mitch Trubisky, offensive lineman R.J. Prince, running back Khris Francis, and wide receiver Jordan Fieulleteau, bring a new energy to the UNC team, and the seniors mentioned the significance of helping bring them along.
"I'm going into my fifth year. I've started 25 games. With that experience, you can be a little more confident and help younger guys like Khris Francis who haven't really stepped in that are going to be able to help us out. You can really help those guys with your experience," said Renner.
After a strong finish in the fall ended quickly due to bowl ineligibility, this new 2013 Tar Heel team looks to take the next step. This year they'll look to make it to the ACC Championship Game after qualifying for it last year but not being eligible to play in it.
With bowl eligibility back up for grabs as well, this new team is leaving the past behind them. Several young players are eager to step up and fill leadership roles left by their departed peers.
And as the seasonal workouts finish up with the Spring Game April 13, a new identity of Tar Heel Football will emerge.
"We only get 15 days." Coach Fedora said. "We only get 15, but so does everybody else in the country, so we've got to get more out of our 15 than everybody else does."
"We understand our goals this year," added Blue. "I think we know they're actually attainable. Last year going out we knew we couldn't get very much. This year we know we have a chance to win, because we had a chance to win last year. I think overall with the season going on and the future, I think we've got a very good chance of winning."