Carolina football practiced at Grimsley High School in Greensboro on Friday for the second of two out-of-town football scrimmages. Gate City native T.J. Logan was the star attraction under the lights, and the freshman delivered. He was electric every time he touched the ball, making defenders miss and showing off his quickness, getting to the sideline and dancing for first downs. Unofficially, Logan had 35 yards and a touchdown on his first eight carries, though he certainly added to that tally as the night continued (official stats weren’t kept, and I stopped charting plays midway through the first quarter).
Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora was asked about Logan following the practice session, and while he’s managing expectations, he certainly seemed excited about the young man’s potential. “He’s making process, you know? He’s still a freshman,” Fedora said, barely containing a smile. “As much as he played last year, he’s still a freshman in college, and he’s still got a lot to learn and he’s getting better every day and he’s going to be a really good player.”
For his part, Logan was happy to get to show off in front of his hometown crowd. “It felt good to get out here and see my family out here,” he said. “It felt real good.”
Logan, you’ll recall, missed the first four games of 2014 while nursing an injury. He’s still getting his legs underneath him but looks ready to carry the load come the fall. “My legs are better,” he said. “They’re sore sometimes so I’ve got to get in the training room and get ice sometimes but that comes with playing football so I’m trying to get better not just on the football field but also off the field.”
Logan won’t be the only Tar Heel who’ll be asked to tote the football, though. January enrollee Elijah Hood got his share of carries as well, and the big Hood showed off his ability to pick up tough yards. In that running back room, the Tar Heels have a host of multi-talented backs who can be summoned according to the team’s needs at any given time. Logan said he and Romar Morris (out for the spring with a lower-body injury) have the speed, “Khris (Francis), he’s all-around,” Logan continued. “(Charles) Brunson, he’s all-around also, and Elijah’s bringing the power, so it’s going to be a good group.” Also of note Friday was walk-on Reid Baxter, a Greensboro native who got a handful of carries in the scrimmage. “That’s my boy Reid,” Logan said. “He gets out there, and you know he’s a quick back. He catches the ball and gets upfield. You can put him in the category with me and Ro.”
Friday’s scrimmage wasn’t a true Blue-White game, as it was more about offense versus defense. The practice offered quarterbacks Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky both the opportunity to go against the first-team defense, and both showed off their skills. Trubisky’s accuracy is undeniable: he threaded the needle several times, including throws to T.J. Thorpe and Bug Howard amid a sea of defenders. While he’s a tremendous rollout passer, Trubisky is also not afraid to tuck and run if a play breaks down. Williams, meanwhile, drew the biggest cheers of the night for a strike down the field to Mack Hollins and continued to show off his feet in getting outside the tackle box on occasion.
Attrition and a lack of depth on the offensive line is going to force the Tar Heel coaches to get creative about getting the ball out and into space quickly, and Friday showed that on several occasions. There was not a ton of time to look downfield, so the offense used a lot of screens and quick passes to let receivers do their work after the catch. Thorpe said he didn’t mind. “Anything I can do or anything we can do to get the ball in my hands, I feel like I enjoy,” he said. “It’s something that I’m getting used to, because I’ve been on the outside mostly, but ever since Ebron left, somebody has to step up. Everybody has to pull together and fill those shoes, and that’s one way we can do it as a team.”
It wasn’t all offense on Friday, as the Tar Heel defense made plays of their own. Shakeel Rashad intercepted a tipped pass and returned it for a touchdown early in the scrimmage, and Dominique Green picked off Kanler Coker. Desmond Lawrence was solid at quarterback, and Justin Thomason and Junior Gnonkonde showed the ability to get in the offensive backfield.
All night long, things were feisty between the sidelines, with the two squads barking back and forth. The wide receivers and defensive backs in particularly got after each other. Though he doesn’t want to see personal fouls, the head coach of the Tar Heels enjoys the competitive spirit.
“I don’t have to get them to compete,” Fedora said. “They’re getting after it. They’re getting after each other, and then you see them afterwards, they love each other. That’s just when they’re out there on the field though they’re going to get after each other, and we want that.”
Lawrence said the defense is tired of seeing the offense every day, and they want to keep them from making plays. “I think just bringing the competitiveness out of both of us really helped us, so I think we’re going to be better in the future but, I love that we’re going at it.” The rising sophomore said the gamesmanship between the offense and defense wasn’t unique to Friday, and that after a cooling-off period, emotions will have simmered down. “It’ll probably take a shower or something to cool somebody down, but usually when we get back on the bus there are a couple of jokes here and there about who would win, but other than that we’re friends off the field,” he said. “There’s no reason to take what happened on the field off the field. It’s a game. We all play this for the love of it, so we’ve just got to go back out there, back in the lab, see what we did wrong, be more disciplined and have a great week next week.”