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March 27, 2013Following North Carolina's Wednesday afternoon practice in Chapel Hill, head coach Larry Fedora spoke with reporters. The Tar Heels are heading to Charlotte on Thursday night for a scrimmage at Mallard Creek High School, and the second-year UNC head coach broke down how that particular event will unfold.
"We'll cut down what we're doing (for the scrimmage)," Fedora said. "We've got everything installed at this point. So now we'll cut way back for (Thursday). We'll pick out a few things that we want to work on offensively and defensively, and then we'll do those things."
"It will be a controlled scrimmage," Fedora continued. "So the 'ones' will go out. If we've got an eight-play scrimmage (segment), they're going to go eight plays, move down the field or whatever. And when those eight plays are up, they're off the field no matter what's happening in that drive."
"There will be a couple of drives that we'll play it so whatever happens in the drive, we'll continue it. It will be 'ones' versus 'ones,' 'twos' versus 'twos,' and 'threes' versus 'threes.'"
"We're also going to get some work in kickoff return and our punt team," Fedora continued.
The practices away from campus are a way not only to tap into UNC's fan interest across the state---they're also hosting one in Greensboro in early April---but also to impress recruits without them having to travel to Chapel Hill.
"It's really a nice thing for our fans that are in the Charlotte area. We've got a lot of fans in that area. So they're going to be able to come out. They're going to be able to see what these guys are doing. Obviously the high school coaches that are there are interested in what we're doing, they're going to be able to come to that."
There's also the element of traveling that comes with the off-campus scrimmages, which Fedora says helps prepare the players for leaving Chapel Hill and getting ready for a game.
"Our players will treat it like a road game. I mean, for these young guys that haven't been on the road, they've got to go on the road, but they've got to maintain the focus that they need when they step out on that field to be able to play," he said.
While the Tar Heels have major holes to fill at key areas along the offensive line and in the linebacking corps, one of the team's veteran strengths appears to be along the defensive line, where UNC has a plethora of experienced players.
"I think Tim Jackson is obviously stepping up, and he's got the most experience. (Shawn) Underwood got a lot of reps last year. Both of those guys are doing a nice job up there. And then Kareem (Martin) is playing really steady," Fedora said.
"We are (seeing leadership from Jackson and Martin). Both of those guys. Probably Tim has stepped up a little more than Kareem with his leadership, and that's what he's got to do."
Naturally leadership is a huge concern for Fedora this time of year. He's looking for guys that will embrace that role and own it this spring.
"I worry about it (leadership) every year on both sides of the ball. Because at this time of the year, the winter conditioning, the spring ball and through the summer, that's where your leaders are going to emerge. A lot of guys will sit back (and not lead) because of maybe senior leadership from the previous year and not really step forward. Well now, they've got to step forward," he said.
"You look for times of adversity for when those guys are really going to step up. Because everybody can do it in the meeting room. But it's when things aren't going right, who's going to step up at that point? That's when your true leaders emerge."
In the secondary UNC currently has a couple of cornerbacks, including Jabari Price and T.J. Jiles, on the shelf with injuries. The Tar Heels are also currently missing Darien Rankin, who is out for the entire spring.
The absence of Price has opened the door for sophomore Malik Simmons to step into the starting lineup alongside fellow cornerback Tim Scott, and Fedora says that Simmons is making the most of the extra work he's getting in practice.
"Malik is doing a nice job. He's over at corner with No. 4 (Price) out right now. Malik is getting a lot of reps, and that's one good thing about it. He's building on what he did last year, and he's really picked up exactly where he left off and has gotten better. You can see he really worked on it during the winter," Fedora said.
Simmons is just one example of a player who is using the time he's being given to perform without a more experienced veteran ahead of him in practice. It's perhaps the only perk that comes in spring football when a key contributor is out of commission, that a guy like Simmons can work with the starting rotation and get invaluable repetitions.
"T.J. (Thorpe) is still out. I really don't know (all the injured) guys). We've got a long list of guys (who are currently hurt)," Fedora said.
"What it does is it enables you to get guys that are 'twos,' guys that are 'threes,' that's what we're trying to do this spring is develop as much depth as we can at a lot of positions, knowing that at some point during the season next year, somebody is going to have to go into a game, somebody is going to have to help us through three or four games because of somebody getting injured. So just treat it as a good thing right now."
One of the more interesting developments during Wednesday's portion of practice that was open to the media was seeing true freshman quarterback Mitch Trubisky spending considerable time running the second-team offense behind Bryn Renner.
It's not an earth-shattering revelation that Trubisky is getting reps in practice, but the fact that he's giving Kanler Coker a very strong battle for UNC's backup quarterback heading into the 2013 season is noteworthy.
"I think it's a great battle right now (between Trubisky and Coker)," Fedora said.
"He (Trubisky) has come a long way in just a short period of time. I mean, he ought to be worried about his dance this Friday night back in Mentor (Ohio) instead of worrying about scrimmaging in Charlotte. So I think the kid has come a long way, you know. Every rep he's getting, he gets better. He's got arm strength."
"I'd say for me (the thing I'm most impressed with about Trubisky) would be how quickly he's picked things up. Because he's doing a fairly good job of managing the offense right now," Fedora continued.
There's also a great deal of competition going on along the offensive line, as players like Caleb Peterson, Nick Appel, and Landon Turner are challenging for starting jobs to replace the departed Jonathan Cooper, Travis Bond, and Brennan Williams, who are all looking to get drafted in next month's NFL Draft.
But Fedora admitted that the young offensive line is still very much a work in progress.
"I can say we've got a long way to go. A long way to go (along the offensive line)," he said.
One area where Fedora feels considerably better is at the punter and 'place holder' position, as junior Thomas Hibbard returns for his third year as starter.
A year ago Hibbard finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in punting with an average of 43 yards per attempt, and Fedora is looking forward to similar production out of Hibbard this coming season, along with his important role holding for field goals and extra points.
"That's an awesome thing is that Tommy is back, and he's got all the experience that he has. He really punted the ball nicely for us last year, and he's going to do it again this year," Fedora said.