Top Storylines to Watch for UNC Football Spring Practice


Can you believe it is time for spring practice already? Yes, the North Carolina Tar Heels took the field today in their first spring football practice of 2015.

The weather doesn’t seem ready for spring football yet, as there is still a lot of snow on the ground all around Chapel Hill and frigid temps in the air. But the players were certainly ready today to get back on the field and work hard to prepare for the 2015 season.

There are many storylines to watch this spring season, but there are two, overarching major storylines to follow: 1) What impact will Gene Chizik have on the defense? and 2) What are the implications of Marquise Williams sitting out this spring with a hip injury? Let’s dive into those storylines and more…

What impact will Gene Chizik have on Carolina’s defense?

There are a million little storylines that go into that big storyline this spring. Who fills what spots in the new 4-3 alignment? Who steps up on the defensive line? Can Carolina find three impact linebackers coming out of spring ball? Will the secondary make steps forward in the new scheme? Where do the bandits and rams fit in this new defense?

We will briefly attack some of the smaller storylines of the defense before looking at the bigger pictures.

The big change with the 4-3 is finding new positions for the players UNC recruited to play the 4-2-5. Lee Pace offered some insight into Carolina’s linebacking core in his Extra Points column…

"Senior Shakeel Rashad, who’s played the hybrid Bandit position for three years, is now at one of the outside linebacker positions and was running with the first team on day one alongside middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer and fellow outside linebacker Joe Jackson in the defense’s new 4-3 alignment."

I’m a bit surprised that Rashad is playing as an outside linebacker in this new system. I’ve always seen him as more of a hand in the ground defensive end as a pass rusher, not necessarily as a gap filling outside linebacker. His bio on lists him as 245 pounds, and that is pushing it for an outside linebacker. But obviously, Gene Chizik knows best and he probably wants to see what Shakeel can do as a OLB. I thought that was an interesting development coming out of the first day of spring ball.

Also, a storyline to watch is how well Jalen Dalton plays this spring. He is practicing with the team after enrolling early and could take hold of a starting defensive end position with a strong spring.

There are a lot of little storylines like Dalton’s to watch all up and down the defensive roster — Who steps up at DT? Who takes over for Travis Hughes? Who takes over for Tim Scott in the secondary? Who is Carolina’s best corner, Brian Walker or Des Lawerence or maybe M.J. Stewart?

But, everything basically boils down to one question — coming out of spring practice, does it look like Gene Chizik’s defense is going to be better than UNC’s group in 2014?

That’s by far the biggest storyline that all the Tar Heel faithful are wondering about.

Switching gears now…

What impact does Marquise Williams absence have on the offense?

All things considered, only having three players miss spring practice isn’t that bad. But Quinshad Davis, Marquise Williams and Justin Thomason are all three pretty big players for the Tar Heels.

The biggest piece is Marquise Williams. You never want your starting quarterback to miss spring practice, but, it’s not the worst thing in the world. I know I just contradicted myself in the same sentence, but there are a few advantages to Williams sitting out this spring which make the injury seem not as bad.

Williams will get a lot of mental reps, which is important for a quarterback known much more for his physical ability than for his mental acumen.

QB Coach Keith Heckendorf, again via Lee Pace’s Extra Points column, on the topic…

"“Quise will be pushed in his mental capacity harder than ever been before. He’ll miss the physical element, but when you take something away, you can add somewhere else. We’re going to challenge his mental endurance this spring. How long can he stay focused? We’re going to ask him to lock in mentally on every snap—I.D. coverages pre-snap, verify coverages post-snap. I want him telling me where he’s going with the ball every single play. I want him to get as much out of spring ball as anyone. When he walks off the practice field I want him to be exhausted mentally from concentrating on every read and every play on every progression on every defense."

That could really be good for Marquise. Last year, he made a lot of silly mistakes (like his interception against GT) when he tried to trust his physical attributes over his mental attributes. Focusing on reading defenses without making the plays might actually be the best thing for Quise’s development.

His absence also opens up the door for Mitch Trubisky to gain valuable reps as the starter all spring long. Nobody is sure if Trubisky is the heir to the Carolina QB throne yet, so allowing him to get a bunch of reps this spring could make that picture a lot clearer. If the coaching staff thinks he is ready, maybe they pull back on the recruiting trail for quarterbacks. But if not, they need to keep searching for that next QB and even hit the trail harder over the summer.

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A couple of rapid fire storylines — Will Switzer take a step forward or step back this spring in the offense? Who steps up at tight end with Jack Tabb gone? What happens across the entire offensive line? Will the incumbents (John Ferranto and Jon Heck) continue to start at the tackle positions, or will the younger prospects (R.J. Prince, Bentley Spain, others) push them for their starting jobs? Who steps up at running back to be the firm starter? Is it Logan? A heathy Elijah Hood? And who is the number one wideout in the spring with Quinshad gone? Probably Switzer, but could a young guy like a Bug Howard or Mack Hollins have a good spring and make a case for themselves?


There are 25 question marks in the body of this article. That’s a ton of question marks and a lot of storylines that need to be followed and answered at the end of spring ball. Be sure to follow Carolina Football on Twitter for images and read Lee Pace’s Extra Points column on for coverage of spring practice. He gets a lot of access and does a good job covering the team.

Also, stay tuned to Keeping It Heel for coverage of UNC Football!

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