By Lee Pace, GoHeels.com
The loudest noise through 17 days and 20 practices of the Tar Heels' August training camp came at nearly 11 a.m. Saturday when Larry Fedora addressed his team, told them of his likes and dislikes of their 2.5 hour scrimmage and then said, "You have tomorrow off – the whole day."
The eruption that followed? You'd have thought Bryn Renner had just nailed Quinshad Davis for a 75-yard score to beat Miami.
The Tar Heels then left to move out of the hotel rooms they'd occupied since reporting to training camp on July 31 and move into their dorms or apartments.
"On Monday, it's all about South Carolina," Fedora said. "Enjoy your day off, make good decisions tonight and come back ready to focus on South Carolina."
Fedora and his staff put their charges through a thorough rehearsal in shorts and shoulder pads-no live tackling to the ground-in a light rain. They'll return to practice Monday morning and work toward a full mock game in Kenan Stadium Thursday at 6 p.m. – exactly one week before the season kicks off in Columbia on Aug. 29.
"We accomplished a lot in camp, but you'd always like to have done more, you'd like to have more time," Fedora says. "We've got a lot of guys banged up, and that always alters what you can do. You don't get enough reps at this position or with this personnel group or in this situation because you have guys hurt. You need them in those reps. So you adjust and hope you get enough of it covered to carry you through the season."
Three impressions from two-plus weeks of training camp:
* Carolina will be significantly better in 2013 at the two hybrid positions on defense that were new last year with the installation of a 4-2-5 scheme.
Norkeithus Otis has been one of the stars of camp at the Bandit position, a DE/LB combo lined up on the opposite side of the defensive front from senior end Kareem Martin. The 6-1, 240-pound junior has played mostly on special teams his first two seasons. He has the size and athleticism to play the position and has exhibited enormous fire and energy on the practice field.
Behind him is Darius Lipford, a 6-3, 245-pound junior who is returning to the team after missing all of last year with a knee injury. Lipford is big and strong enough to lift with the linemen and fast enough to run with the skill players. He's just got to turn his athleticism loose on the playing field and get his sea legs in competition after having been sidelined for so long
The Ram, a fifth defensive back, is being contested by Brandon Ellerbe and Terry Shankle, the former a sturdier player against the run and the latter a converted cornerback who's fast and better in man coverage.
"Personnel-wise, we're better at those positions, and we have a better understanding this year of what we're trying to do with our Bandit and Ram," Fedora says.
"Otis has really jumped out. He's playing his tail off. He plays as hard as anyone on the field, he loves playing the game, and I'm hearing from the offensive coaches how much they're noticing him. He's playing the game the way we want it to be played. The position really fits him well-he's a guy who can go get the quarterback and then the next snap drop into coverage."
* The tight end position will be quite an offensive threat this year with a trio of juniors – Eric Ebron, Jack Tabb and Eric Albright. Everyone knows Ebron (85) and Tabb (80), but Albright at No. 47 has been visible often with the first-team offense used in a variety of sets, formations and responsibilities.
Ebron is borderline un-guardable with his 6-4 frame and excellent speed, but if he's doubled that opens things up for other receivers. Tabb has been introduced to linebacker given the Tar Heels' depth problems there, but that's only for an emergency situation. He's too good and too savvy on offense to move him permanently to the other side of the ball.
"Tabb's tearing it up," Fedora says. "He and James Hurst are the two smartest guys on offense. You can do so many things with him-from the backfield, from tight end, from a wide receiver."
* There is no shortage of quality newcomers that could well make an impact this fall. Receiver Ryan Switzer has been running with the first-team as a punt and kick-off returner. Khris Francis and T.J. Logan are as good as advertised at running back. Bug Howard, a 6-4 receiver, has made a handful of leaping, acrobatic catches. Lucas Crowley has been impressive as a backup center.
Dominique Green, a January enrollee, had moved up the depth chart to the starting "Cat" safety position before being hobbled with an ankle injury. Defensive linemen Dajaun Drennon, Nazair Jones, Greg Webb and Mikey Bart are all being groomed to contribute this fall.
And there are some interesting stories among walk-ons vying for time on offense, defense and special teams. Senior Tre Boston has cited scholarship freshman Donnie Miles and walk-on Mack Hollins as aggressive, speedy additions to the punt return team, and another veteran, Romar Morris, likes what he sees in walk-on running back Charles Brunson's prospects for helping on special teams. Freshman walk-on linebacker Kemmi Pettway looks the part at 6-2, 230 pounds, and the Tar Heel staff hopes it found a sleeper from Garinger High in Charlotte.
And there's an interesting family connection on the field as well. Sophomore walk-on Carson Wooten, seen Saturday running with the first punt team as one of the three "shield" players blocking for punter Tommy Hibbard, is the nephew of former All-America guard Ron Wooten and son of ex-N.C. State player Ray Wooten.
"We'll need everybody we've got," Fedora says. "We've got a lot of good players, we just don't have enough. But there are a lot of opportunities for guys to find a spot where they can contribute. Camp's been tough. Our kids are tired, beat up, tired of hitting on each other. We've had them from 6 in the morning until light out at 11.
"But we've gotten a lot accomplished. Now it's time to think about next Thursday."
Chapel Hill writer Lee Pace (firstname.lastname@example.org) is now in his 24th year writing "Extra Points" and 10th reporting from the sidelines for the Tar Heel Sports Network. His unique look at Tar Heel football will appear weekly throughout the fall.