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UNC head coach Larry Fedora spoke with reporters Thursday afternoon following the first practice of this year's training camp. Four weeks from today (August 29) the Tar Heels take the field at Columbia's Williams-Brice Stadium for its season opener at South Carolina.
Fedora indicated that on the first day he and his coaches were looking to see how the players took the concepts they learned during the spring and applied them to their offseason training and studying regimen.
"I'm really looking for recall from where we left off during spring ball. You start looking to see how much work a kid really put in during the summer as far as how much did he really study it, and how much does he know at this point? So you're really looking for recall these first days," Fedora said.
Fedora was pleased with the way the Tar Heel players moved around, but he suggested that's something you always expect after a long offseason of weight lifting, running, and anticipation for the new season.
"The tempo was good. We got the reps in, and we pushed the reps. We got plenty of reps in the periods we were running and we still had time, so we were in good shape there," Fedora said.
"They're all moving around. They're all going to move around great in shorts, and it's day one. So I don't put a whole lot of stock into that. The energy level was good, but it's always going to be good on day one."
The UNC players arrived collectively for training camp on Wednesday after a brief late summer break following the end of the second summer session last month.
"Last night with them, it's like kids on Christmas. They have a hard time going to sleep because they're excited about getting out here," Fedora said. "And it's the same way with the coaches. I've been doing this for a long time, but I'm still worried the alarm clock is not going to go off. I'm going to be late. I still go through all those same thoughts as I did when I was a player, and it's the same things these guys think about."
Fedora and the other UNC coaches were glad to finally get to take the field and work with the 2013 signees that signed this past February. Some of them, such as T.J. Logan and Ryan Switzer, figure to be in the mix for immediate playing time as kickoff and punt specialists.
"It's been fun to get out here with them (the newcomers)," Fedora said. "And it's fun to see how much they actually learned over the summer. And the older guys did a really nice job with them. Some of those guys did some really nice things today."
Just one glance at the training camp roster compared to the post-spring roster indicates that numerous Tar Heel players have put on considerable muscle weight.
That's a testament to the work they've put in over the past eight months since the end of last season in the gym with strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez and his staff.
"These guys have been through a full year, and a month or two with Lou. That pays off tremendously. There are no surprises," Fedora said. "They know what's expected. And the strength levels from the summer, and where those guys are now compared to last year---we compared everything---it's not even close."
Along with the improved strength numbers, Fedora thinks the team is moving faster and more importantly playing faster.
While it's impossible to know after one practice in shorts to know how far the team has come since the spring, Fedora clearly saw things on Thursday suggesting this team has made leaps and bounds since he coached his first UNC training camp practice this time a year ago.
"No doubt about it you see guys moving around a whole lot faster. You see guys, there's a lot less thinking. The older guys, there's no thinking involved. They know exactly what they're doing. And they're able to do it fast."
"Their levels of commitment aren't even close," Fedora continued. "All the different things that we compare to see where we are, we're a lot farther ahead. Are we going to be a better football team? I don't know. We'll see."
THURSDAY NEWS AND NOTES
---Fedora confirmed that wide receiver Roy Smith, a standout in track for the Tar Heels, isn't working out with the football team this spring. Forced to comply with the NCAA-mandated 105-player limit during training camp for scholarship and walk-on players, the Tar Heels didn't have the room for Smith. He can, however, come back once the fall semester begins and play/practice after that.
"Roy is not in the 105. He's not in the 105. So you get 105 guys to bring in, and sometimes we've got to make tough decisions," Fedora said.
"We only have 105---so many numbers at a single position that we can bring in. We bring in so many quarterbacks. We determine how many receivers we're going to bring in. We determine how many corners. And a lot of it is to make sure you get through camp. You've got enough legs, you know."
---The second-year coach touched briefly on the team's depth and recent medical hardships handed out to multiple older players with injury issues.
"We had some guys that were maybe nicked up or whatever, and if they can't go through practice, we'll push them out and we'll bring somebody else in so we'll have some fresh legs and help guys get through camp."
---Fedora was naturally thrilled to get both T.J. Thorpe and Darius Lipford back in practice on Thursday. After missing all of last season, each of them are healthy and working to get back into their respective position rotations.
The same goes for T.J. Jiles, who played right away last fall as a true freshman but wasn't able to work out most of the spring.
"Both T.J.'s to me (Jiles and Thorpe), and Lipford, it was nice to have those guys out here. I kept asking Thorpe how he felt and he said he felt good. Darius looked like he was moving around pretty good. It'll be fun to see what they're going to bring to the football team," Fedora said.
---The UNC coach also touched briefly on fifth-year senior Terry Shankle, a longtime cornerback who was seen working out at one point on Thursday with the safeties.
"What we're doing is working him (Shankle and the 'Ram') and corner so he can do either. He already knows the corner stuff, so we've thrown him over (to the 'Ram') so he can learn that as quickly as possible during camp. And then we can make sure to get him on the field. It's great to have that experience."
---It looks as though Thorpe is in a potential summer battle with newcomers Ryan Switzer and T.J. Logan for playing time at the kickoff and punt return specialist spots.
"We've got three guys out there that are working on punt returns right now with Thorpe, Logan, and Switzer. And I would say I saw today that we're going to be able to find somebody."