Turner's Take: Back To Camp
"It's like kids [at] Christmas," Larry Fedora said of his players' excitement for the beginning of training camp. "They have a hard time going to sleep, because they're excited about getting out here, and it's the same way for the coaches, really. I've been doing this for along time, but I still get worried that the alarm clock's not going to go off and I'm going to be late. I still go through all those same thoughts that I did when I was a player, and it's the same things these guys think about."
Football season is here. Overcast skies Thursday morning didn't deter the Tar Heels from getting to work on Navy Fields for the first day of fall training camp. Now in their second year under Fedora, the Tar Heels looked extremely comfortable practicing at a pace that shocked them just a year ago.
In his first season, Fedora was constantly looking to push the tempo during practice. Now, the Tar Heels are conditioned to work at a pace that will serve to exhaust their opponents come Saturdays. "The tempo was good, there was no question," Fedora said following Thursday's practice. "We got the reps in, and we pushed the reps."
After more than a year with strength and conditioning coach Lou Hernandez, this group is well-conditioned for everything the coaching staff asks of them. "Where those guys are compared to last year, it's not even close. Their levels of commitment aren't even close," Fedora said. "All the different things, as we compare, to see where we are, we're a lot farther ahead. Are we going to be a better football team? I don't know. We'll see."
That conditioning combined with a year of study of the new offensive and defensive playbooks has allowed the Tar Heels to practice efficiently at the tempo Fedora expects. "You see guys moving around a whole lot faster, and you see there's a lot less thinking," he said. "The older guys, there's no thinking involved. They know exactly what they're doing, and they're able to do it fast."
Confidence in themselves enabled those veterans to help get their new teammates up to speed. No true freshman will be totally comfortable on day one, but Fedora said the returning players did well to prepare the rookies. "It's fun to see how much they actually learned over the summer," he said. "The older guys did a really nice job with them, so some of those kids really did some nice things today."
Carolina began fall camp relatively healthy, and welcomed back a pair of players who weren't able to show their skills in Fedora's first season on campus. Wide receiver T.J. Thorpe missed 2012 and spring 2013 with a pair of foot injuries. Linebacker Darius Lipford injured his knee in the 2011 Independence Bowl, then suffered a second setback last summer. Both were on the field at full go on Thursday. "It was nice to have those guys back out there," Fedora said. "I kept asking Thorpe how he felt, and he said he felt good. Darius looked like he was moving around pretty good, so it's going to be fun to see what they're going to bring to the football team."
Both players should be able to plug in and help the team; Lipford perhaps at bandit, and Thorpe potentially as a return man. The biggest play of the 2012 Carolina football season was a punt return, but with Giovani Bernard now in Cincinnati Bengals training camp, someone new will step forward. Thorpe was electrifying as a true freshman in 2011, and he and freshmen Ryan Switzer and T.J. Logan worked on punt return on Thursday. "I would say, just in the little bit I saw today, we'll be able to find somebody out of that group," Fedora said.
It was just the first practice of many to come in 2013, but it was important to get off on the right foot. Thursday's session began with A$AP Ferg blaring over the loudspeakers and ended with Fedora's reminder to stay rested and hydrated and a breakdown from quarterback Bryn Renner. There are three weeks of training camp before game week, and the Tar Heels were not in full pads Thursday, but there was no doubt: football is here.
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