Chapel Hill may be snowed under, but the clock is ticking toward the Blue Dawn conditioning period (beginning Monday) and spring practice. Here are some Carolina football storylines to keep you warm.
Getting to know you
Carolina has three new coaches on campus: Seth Littrell, associate head coach for offense and tight ends coach, running backs coach Larry Porter and quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf. Littrell’s hiring was announced back on January 24, and he was on the road recruiting for the 2015 class before he could settle in his new office. Littrell will spend the pre-spring practice period acquainting himself with his charges before the offense takes the practice field. The offensive philosophies are expected to stay largely the same, as Larry Fedora is an offensive-minded, push the tempo head coach. But Littrell will add wrinkles here and there. “I know Walt (Bell, former tight ends coach) and Blake (Anderson, former offensive coordinator) both did a tremendous job when they were here, and theirs will be big shoes to fill,” Littrell said last week. “But at the same time, I feel like I can bring something to the table and hopefully keep this thing rolling in the right direction, along with the coaching staff and players.”
Heckendorf returns to campus after a brief stint with Anderson and Arkansas State, but as a player development assistant for the last three seasons, he is very familiar with the players he’ll work with in the quarterbacks room. Heckendorf has been instrumental in the last three seasons of Carolina football and takes a natural step into the role of position coach. There should be tremendous competition in that room, with incumbent starter Marquise Williams, redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky, sophomore Kanler Coker and incoming freshman Caleb Henderson all looking to direct the Tar Heel offense. With some turnover on the Tar Heel staff, it’s comforting to know that the talented quarterbacks will be working with a familiar face in Heckendorf.
Porter comes to Carolina from Mack Brown’s staff at Texas and brings a reputation as a tremendous recruiter. He too will find the cabinet stocked in the running backs room. Rising sophomores T.J. Logan and Khris Francis and junior Romar Morris are joined by the AP North Carolina Player of the Year, early enrollee Elijah Hood. Fedora and Littrell are going to want to spread the ball around, and they’ll have plenty of capable playmakers out of the backfield.
The Tar Heel offensive line was a mix of youth and experience in 2013. Left tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine had four and two years starting under their belts, respectively, with right guard Landon Turner having a handful of starts in 2012. It took some time for the unit to find its feet last season, but toward the second half they hit their stride.
Consistency is key in offensive line play, and Bodine caught the coaches by surprise when he opted to enter the 2014 NFL Draft. This spring, the line is not quite starting from square one, but certainly not as experienced as one would like. Sophomore Lucas Crowley played well at center when Bodine shifted to left guard on occasion in 2013, and Caleb Peterson (left guard) and Jon Heck (right tackle) displayed marked improvement over the course of the season. Newcomer Bentley Spain enrolled early and could be poised to take over at left tackle. Carolina added three more offensive linemen in the 2014 class (Josh Allen, Jared Cohen and Caleb Samuel) as well.
On the other hand, Eric Ebron’s jump to the NFL Draft (and perhaps the first round) was not unexpected. Still, Littrell will find he has pieces to work with in the tight ends room. Rising senior Jack Tabb had seven catches and a touchdown (and moonlighted as a linebacker) in 2013. Carolina would love to see him take a step forward and become consistently reliable in 2014. In addition to senior Eric Albright (who played in 12 games on special teams and in select offensive sets), the Tar Heels have a host of young talent at tight end, including early enrollee Brandon Fritts and signee Avery Edwards.