By Lee Pace, GoHeels.com
Random snapshots and observations from this weekend's last full-scale scrimmage of the preseason, conducted under a bright sun and plus-80 degree temperatures:
The Tar Heels worked for two hours, 30 minutes Saturday morning in nearly every permutation imaginable, first team offense vs. first team defense, ones vs. twos, three vs. threes and every kicking game unit involved as well. Afterward coach Larry Fedora officially broke preseason camp, told his players they had the afternoon to move into their dorms and be back on schedule at night for dinner and a team meeting that would include a visit from UNC Chancellor Carol Folt.
"We had a good day today, we got a bunch of reps, we got a lot of guys playing at a lot of positions," Fedora says. "We worked just about every situation imaginable-four-minute, two-minute, going-in, coming-out. We got a lot of good work and got lot of guys reps. These guys held up really well in camp. We're where we need to be. I just wish we had more experience and more depth, but we don't. We're not going to pick up anyone off the waiver wire or free agency, so this is what we've got."
This is the second straight year the Tar Heels will light on senior leadership. There are only five seniors (not counting specialists) who have made an impact on the program-defensive players Travis Hughes, Norkeithus Otis, Ethan Farmer and Tim Scott and tight end Jack Tabb.
Fedora said that perhaps half of the freshman class of 20 players could play this fall. One newcomer who has consistently stood out is defensive tackle Tyler Powell, who's 6-4 and has added 30 pounds to his 255 weight as a senior in high school.
"Tyler's done some tremendous things, he's definitely going to help us this year," Fedora says. "He's got a great motor, great attitude. He loves being here. He loves practicing. He loves every bit of it."
Receiver Josh Cabrera is mature, has picked things up quickly and made several big plays and catches Saturday. Running back Elijah Hood is as good as advertised. Cornerback M.J. Stewart and linebackers Cayson Collins and Ty Tomlin have stepped out.
"They're all still swimming mentally," Fedora says. "They're trying to grasp a lot in a short period of time. We think close to half of this freshman class will play for us and contribute to our success this year. We've got a lot of kids eager to show what they can do."
The Tar Heels coaches and entire team met with a crew of seven ACC officials before and after the scrimmage. Fedora wants his team to better understand what each official does, where he's positioned, what his responsibilities are. He wants his coaches to interact with the officials about the nuances of the rules and how games are called.
Mostly, he wants his team to cut down on the avalanche of flags it drew during its 7-6 campaign in 2013. The Tar Heels were No. 111 of 123 FBS teams with 7.4 penalties called a game and No. 109 for penalty yardage with 63.92 yards a game.
"We've set a goal of cutting our penalties by 50 percent this season," he says. "We're approaching it in a wide variety of ways, in the way we handle officials, the way we talk to officials, way we listen to them. Just playing smarter is a big part of it. We had a lot of stupid penalties. Every personal foul is stupid penalty, those are selfish penalties. The ones when you're playing aggressive, we can live with those. It's the ones you control that we can't allow to happen."
The coaching staff made a separate tape-study file of all snaps where penalties occurred and dissected every play with the offending player (if he's returning) and everyone at that position and on that side of the ball.
"We talked not only about the penalty itself but every situation and the result of the penalty-how did it hurt the team?" Fedora says. "Hopefully they'll be much more aware and much smarter."
Incidentally, the ACC voted in the spring to use an eighth official for all conference games, adding a man called the "center judge." He'll work in the offensive backfield along with the referee and be positioned on the opposite side from the referee.
Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky both made some nice throws Saturday, and Trubisky scored on one scrambling touchdown that vouches for the exemplary speed he possesses. There is no collegiate frame of reference on Trubisky given that he was being redshirted in 2013, but observers will note this year the improved footwork and pocket patience on Williams' part. Both of the latter elements have been points of emphasis from QBs coach Keith Heckendorf.
"If your feet are bad, your arm's going to be bad," Heckendorf says. "Guys try to over-think the arm-is my motion right, where's my elbow, how's my follow-through? I coach through the feet. If the feet are right, the arm will follow naturally.
"The most gratifying thing from spring to August has been seeing Marquise begin to talk like a coach and see things through my eyes," he continues. "I'll ask him a question and now he uses and understands the same terms and language. He understands his progressions so much better. He understands the structure of a defense. He was still very raw last year, it was his first taste of playing in a game. He would drop back, look for his first receiver, if he wasn't there he'd take off. I think you'll see a lot more patience from him this year."
Fedora and the Tar Heel coaches have wracked their brains trying to account for all the variables opposing teams might throw at them when faced with having to punt to Ryan Switzer, who returned five kicks for touchdowns his freshman season.
"I have no idea what people will do against him," says Fedora. "Kick away from him? Kick it out of bounds? Keep the quarterback on the field and make us play punt-safe? And some will say, 'We're pretty good at what we do. We'll stop him.'
"We have a plan for everything they can do. Ryan does know he's not going to get the opportunities he did last year. And I'm not sure if he's ready for the frustration that comes with that. But we'll be ready for whatever we get."
The Tar Heels have been trying Switzer as a back-up kick-off return option, but his slight build makes him better suited to punts.
"Kick-offs are a different animal," Fedora says. "Those blocks and collisions are totally different, much more vicious. We're working him some there. We're thinking about it. We're weighing the risk vs. reward."
SQUIB KICKS: Offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic likes what he sees in freshman Bentley Spain at left tackle as a backup to John Ferranto enough that he has moved R.J. Prince to right tackle. Prince will battle with Kiaro Holts for the No. 2 spot behind Jon Heck ... Walk-on QB Caleb Pressley was going to slide down the depth chart to fifth-team when freshman scholarship player Caleb Henderson arrived, so Pressley has found another niche on the team. Tight ends coach Walt Bell signaled the plays in from the sideline the last two years, but both he and coordinator Blake Anderson have moved to Arkansas State. So Pressley is now a student manager and will take over Bell's role of signaling plays in ... Reserve defensive tackle and special teams workhorse Allen Champagne left the team after the Belk Bowl to concentrate on his studies (he's a Morehead Scholar). But this summer he got the itch to play more football and the D-line needs bodies, so Champagne is back on the field, bringing a special brand of energy and enthusiasm that's contagious.
Chapel Hill writer Lee Pace (firstname.lastname@example.org) is entering his 25th year writing "Extra Points" and 11th reporting from the sidelines for the Tar Heel Sports Network. His unique look at Tar Heel football will appear regularly throughout the fall. Follow him on Twitter @LeePaceTweet.