Although he's not the kind of guy to reveal too much to reporters, UNC head coach Larry Fedora sounds positive about the way the Tar Heels are coming along in camp when he spoke with Tar Heel Illustrated and other media on Thursday following the team's eighth practice of training camp.
Sporting a scruffy look---'It's a 'lack of time' beard is what that is, a poor job on my part,' Fedora said---Fedora told us that he was particularly impressed with the way the team responded during its first two-a-days of summer camp on Wednesday.
"I was really pleased with the way they came out here (Wednesday)," Fedora said. "That was their first day of two-a-days, so we challenged them to come out here. The first practice we had a really good practice, and then the key was could we be better in the afternoon? And I was really, really happy with the way they came out here, their attitude."
"They're still making mistakes, but the way they moved around and the way they approached practice was really good."
Fedora isn't ready to say the team is expert yet on the new schemes the coaches have been implementing over the past few months, but he's seeing notable progress since even the spring season.
"I don't think they know (but) I think they've got a better understanding. I think they're closer than they were the day we started. They're farther along than when we left off in the spring," Fedora said.
Part of the progress is the ability to work several young players into the rotation and that's been the case all week, as a plethora of first and second-year players have gotten a chance to get the reps with the first and second teams on both sides of the ball.
"The good thing about it is we're getting those younger guys some reps---guys that have to come on and have to learn and have to do it. And a lot of those guys are just learning how to survive in practice, just how to make do. Because you think a year ago, they weren't doing anything like this, I can assure you," Fedora said.
True to his nature of playing things close to the vest, Fedora didn't hint as to which specific positions were being hotly contested so far in camp.
"I'd say, to be honest with you, there's 11 on offense, there's 11 on defense, and 11 on special teams," he said.
Fedora did speak about several individual players, and gave praise to a couple offensive players for the leadership they've shown so far in camp.
A.J. Blue is doing some really good things," Fedora said. "He's a guy that's been leading quite a bit. He's a vocal guy. Guys listen to him."
Reggie Wilkins and Sean Tapley have returned to practice after missing time earlier this week, and Tapley got similar praise as Blue from Coach Fedora for the way he's stepping up as a leader.
"Both of them (Wilkins and Tapley) have missed a few days here and there, but I would say Tapley is probably a leader in that group. He's been a guy who has stepped up. He's vocal. He's a guy that's constantly talking about what we need to do. That's a good thing."
Despite the return of Wilkins and Tapley to workouts, Quinshad Davis still hasn't been medically cleared and T.J. Thorpe will be out for several weeks, so when asked about the wide receivers Fedora said in regards to the depth, 'It's still a concern. It's still a concern.'
The Tar Heels also rotated in a bunch of offensive linemen into the two-deep on Wednesday, with James Hurst and Brennan Williams both limited.
Guys like Landon Turner and Kiaro Holts are getting brief tastes of life in practice as first-teamers, while a guy like Travis Bond is preparing for the possibility of learning two positions, as he's getting work at both right guard and right tackle.
"We've had some guys who have been in and out in the offensive line," Fedora said.
"I wouldn't say (the offense is) natural (to the offensive line yet), but they're starting to understand. It's a process, and it's a tough process for a guy who's big. And it's a tough process for a wide receiver who has to run like a greyhound all day. So it's just a part of what we do."
For Bond, the prospect of getting repetitions at two different positions in training camp was a daunting one even a few months ago, but 30 pounds lighter, playing at a significantly trimmer 340 pounds now compared to his prior 370, and Bond has been a constant on the field throughout the first eight practices.
"Travis, I don't know how many reps he's getting in practice, but I know he's not coming off the field. He's going with the ones. He's having to bounce out to tackle with the 'twos.' He's getting a lot of reps. And he wouldn't have been able to do that at 370 pounds," Fedora said.
While UNC could still feasibly insert several different nuances into the offense---including the possibility of a two-quarterback rotation---Fedora says that right now they've installed more than enough plays and schemes to get through the season.
Now it's about learning what has been implemented before going overboard with a lot of new stuff.
"We do (have packages for two quarterbacks). Whether or not we'll do it or not, or whether they'll earn the right to do it (depends on them)," Fedora said.
"There's plenty more (offensive plays) to go, but I don't know if we'll ever get to it. We've got enough in for this season."
"We can make it through the season with what we have right now if we can execute what we have. That's the question," Fedora continued. "Can we really execute what we have right now? There's no reason to really put anything else in if we can't execute what we have right now."