The best of this weekend's Tar Heel football news, with an eye towards the second full week of training camp:
An unseasonably mild August camp finally heated up Saturday morning as the Tar Heels scrimmaged for two hours under sunny skies and nearly 90 degree temperatures. On the first day of two-a-days on Tuesday, the thermometer registered only low-80s, hardly a staple of preseason training camp rigors.
"It wasn't bad for the first day of two-a-days to be pretty mild," Tar Heel coach Larry Fedora said. "We got a lot out of the guys during the second practice Tuesday night. But we've needed it to warm up. It's going to be hot in Columbia at the end of the month. We're in good shape, but we need some heat this month to make sure we're ready for the opener."
The practice was closed as normal except to a group of former Tar Heel football lettermen, who were returning for their annual preseason visit that included watching practice and attending lunch afterward with Fedora, his staff and players.
"I want you to know how much we appreciate your coming back," Fedora told the ex-players, who ranged from Albert Long, a letterman from the George Barclay era of the mid-1950s, to Matt Merletti, a safety and special-teams mainstay who finished in 2011. "We always want you to feel welcome. I want you to know we do understand you are the guys who built this place. I want our players to know you and hear your stories, to know how this place was built.
"We've got a lot of work to do, but I promise you this: We'll make you proud every time we walk off the field."
Camp Personnel Updates
One week and a half into camp, Fedora and his staff are working hard to fit a number of pieces into place in this emerging jigsaw puzzle of a football team. The kicking game has gotten plenty of attention, with Thomas Moore developing consistency with mid- and long-range field goals, Tommy Hibbard having improved his range and hang time considerably in the punting game, and freshman Ryan Switzer impressing his teammates with his speed and agility in the return game. Sophomore receiver Quinshad Davis has added 20 pounds to his frame--"I needed more armor going across the middle," he says--and tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Tabb have had outstanding camps.
Sophomore Damien Washington made a late-week switch from wide receiver to safety. The Kannapolis, N.C., native played in nine games in 2012 as a true freshman and caught two passes for 16 yards. Washington played some safety at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis and has good size (6-1, 190 pounds) for the position. Accompanying his switch to the defensive side of the ball is a change in numbers from 87 to 35. Fellow safety Malik Simmons moved from No. 35 to No. 11.
Carolina returns to the practice field again Monday morning.
The best Tar Heel football story of the weekend came from Lauren Brownlow, who reminds us that the 2013 Carolina seniors were freshmen when the Tar Heels opened the 2010 season against LSU. That game simultaneously seems like yesterday and like 20 years ago.
If you don't already, you need to follow the Carolina grounds crew on Twitter. They've thrown out some possibilities for the Kenan end zones over the last few weeks, and they tested argyle--yes, argyle--at this weekend's scrimmage.
South Carolina Notes
Just like the Tar Heels, South Carolina scrimmaged on Saturday, and they likewise did it under steamy skies. The scrimmage included some possible positive news at tailback for the Gamecocks, but a spotty performance from special teams. There are complete Steve Spurrier comments here, in a story from the South Carolina official site that actually does refer to him as Head Ball Coach.
Tar Heels in the NFL
The NFL pretend exhibition season got underway over the weekend, with the Tar Heel-heavy Bengals getting a prime-time ESPN spot. Giovani Bernard was as advertised and scored a touchdown, but from the Cincinnati perspective, the bigger story might have been fellow Tar Heel Brandon Tate, who also found the end zone and had a very solid performance. Tate could be in a battle to make the Bengals' final roster.
A quarterback who once benefited from Tate's gamebreaking ability is T.J. Yates, who is also having a solid start to training camp. Yates is dueling Case Keenum for the backup QB job with the Texans, and the recently engaged Yates played well in the opener. Another former Yates target, Hakeem Nicks, did not play in the first Giants preseason game as a precaution due to a nagging injury. Since there was no Nicks this weekend, we'll just have to watch this catch against West Virginia again. Stay for the replay, because it's ridiculous. This has to go on the short list of greatest catches ever by a Tar Heel receiver:
The injury news was better for first-round pick Sylvester Williams, who had missed some practice time early in camp but was able to make his debut for the Broncos. Fellow first-rounder Jonathan Cooper also started in his first game, and is earning praise from veteran teammates for his play on the offensive line.
At the opposite end of the rookie spectrum, Kevin Reddick is trying to make the New Orleans roster as an undrafted free agent. In the middle of last week, he earned some praise from former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert after a standout practice. In the Saints' exhibition opener, he was on the field early on special teams, which looks like it could be his best gateway to making the team (scroll down to No. 4).
Finally, a look at three Tar Heel linebackers who are generating positive buzz in training camp. Quinton Coples now goes in this category after an offseason position swap, and he picked up a sack in the opener. Zach Brown, meanwhile, continues to prove people wrong with the Titans. And an NFL.com story named Bruuuuuuuuuce Carter as their number-two possible breakout player of 2013.