Evolution of an Offense

As North Carolina has worked through its second spring season in recent weeks under the watchful eye of head coach Larry Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson, the Tar Heels are running some new things, while also staying away from some things they ran a year ago.
In an effort to best utilize the talent at their disposal at this time, while also getting as much speed onto the field as possible, Fedora and Anderson have tweaked the offense in a way to promote those things.
"We actually took some things out and then we added some things. We're always tweaking things trying to add things that we think can help us, because our personnel is different than it was last year. So we've taken out a few things that we don't feel like we'll be successful with and we've added a couple of things that can enhance the offense," said Fedora in a recent interview with Tar Heel Illustrated.
"We've tweaked a few things," added Anderson. "We always find things in the offseason that we feel like we can do better that might compliment the package. So we've added a couple things, but mainly we've focused on playing faster, and didn't feel like we still played as fast as we wanted to (a season ago)."
With the running backs, for example, the Tar Heels had some wrinkles drawn up into the system a year ago to maximize the speed, elusiveness, and playmaking ability of one Giovani Bernard.
Now, without Bernard in the fold this spring, Fedora and Anderson are looking for ways within the offense to create similar big-play opportunities for A.J. Blue, Romar Morris, Khris Francis, and the other Tar Heel running backs.
Some stuff is identical. But some stuff is a lot different with these new backs.
"We've altered the offense to what they (this year's running backs) can do, you know. But it doesn't mean when one comes in we change what we're doing out there, because all three of them can do what we want to do," Fedora said.
"We've taken out a few plays that may have been good for us last year that we don't feel like they will be good this year, and we've added a few that we feel we can take advantage of this year."
Of course, you'd be hard-pressed this time of year---or any time for that matter---getting Fedora to break down specifics of the changes.
He'd rather just tell you that some things are different, and that they're designed to play up to the nuances of this particular team and this particular collection of personnel.
And spring season, of course, is also a time for experimentation, so some of the things the Tar Heels are running offensively today might not even be in the package come fall as the coaches evaluate practice and scrimmage film and determine which things are working well and which things aren't.
"That's an ever-changing, always-evolving scenario (the offensive playbook)," said Fedora. "We'll look at it after spring ball. We're doing some things right now that we may not do during fall camp because we may not like the way it looks, and so we may take it out. So (we're) just taking a look at a lot of different things right now."
For his part, Anderson has been impressed with the play this spring of several young players in the UNC offensive huddle---many of them guys who haven't yet been asked to go out on a fall Saturday and produce with a game on the line.
It's been a slow, methodical process these last few weeks, but Anderson sees some progress.
"(It's coming along) slowly. Slowly. A lot of guys are getting reps for the first time. Every day is a new problem, but for the most part we're getting really good effort, and guys are starting to have less and less mistakes," he said. "Really, so many new guys on offense with as many guys graduating, and then Gio leaving early. We've got a lot of new guys who need reps, just base reps to learn the system."
"Hopefully here by next week (and the Spring Game), we'll look like a football team," he added.
It has been advantageous for Anderson this spring from the standpoint that instead of having to teach all the players something brand new, he's been in position this spring to focus in on specific areas of improvement since the offense has more or less been installed.
"Now guys have a better understanding of what we're looking for, and so that's gotten better. We're transitioning faster. We've made some changes just across the board to help that happen, and I think those have been good," Anderson replied.
The offensive line has faced a particularly arduous task this spring replacing players the caliber of Jonathan Cooper Travis Bond, and Brennan Williams.
And while Anderson has seen considerable growing pains at different points from different guys, he's been pleased with how quickly they've been moving around, and how they've slowly been developing some cohesiveness and consistency with each other.
"You know, I would say they (the offensive linemen) have had the toughest job of anybody in the sense that we don't let them go through anything slowly. And they're getting a ton of movement up front. So I would say that's probably been the slowest part, but just like the scrimmage the other night, I thought they did a great job when we were in a live drill of allowing us to play fast. They covered up a lot of movement and we were able to run the ball effectively," Anderson said.
"It has been a little bit of kind of like it is at running back. Every day there's one guy that stands out and one guy that maybe doesn't have such a good day. They're getting to be more and more consistent."
As they've worked to get this newly-merged unit of Tar Heel offensive players playing fast, playing smart, and playing together, the UNC coaches have walked a line between throwing too much at them too fast, and instructing the players on what they'll have to be able to run come fall.
It's a delicate balancing act for a coordinator like Anderson, but he's hopeful that the Tar Heel players will take what they've learned and developed on this spring and take it into the summertime and their own individual workouts.
"It's kind of a fine line between how much is enough," Anderson told us. "We're running what we run. So they're getting a good look at it. They'll get good looks at it all summer on their own. And hopefully by the end of fall camp, some of these new guys will have had enough reps where they can be productive come game one."