** An extended game week of sorts began in the drizzle at Navy Fields less than 24 hours before the fall semester opens. UNC’s emphasis was evident as the scout team donned garnet pennies, one of the Gamecocks’ primary colors.
Sports talk radio, television, message boards and most every other outlet has been saturated this offseason with talk of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. There was a No. 7 – Clowney’s number - in a white jersey with garnet lettering at UNC’s practice on Monday, which belonged to freshman walk-on Bandit Kemmi Pettway (6-foot-2, 230 pounds).
“Everything practice-wise was geared towards the game plan for this first game,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora told reporters following practice.
After taking Tuesday off, the players will return to practice Wednesday evening before holding a live game simulation on Thursday.
** With A.J. Blue still dealing with a hamstring injury, sophomore running back Romar Morris has emerged as UNC’s No. 1 option out of the backfield.
“If we went today, Romar would be the guy,” Fedora said.
** The second-year UNC head coach indicated that his staff has starters established across the board except for at right tackle. Offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic told InsideCarolina.com last week that he had hoped for someone to emerge by the end of spring ball. Last Friday, Fedora told reporters that he expected to have clarity at the position following Saturday’s scrimmage.
The only change, however, is that backup left tackle Nick Appel has entered the fray with Jon Heck and Kiaro Holts while John Ferranto has moved to left tackle behind James Hurst.
“Today all three guys got reps there with the ones,” Fedora said. “It’s a work in progress… We’re looking for somebody to separate from the others and decide they really want it. They’ve got to go the extra mile and show us.”
When asked if frustration was mounting for the offensive coaches about this position battle, Fedora replied:
“It is what it is.”
“Nobody has separated themselves and so we keep going until someone separates,” he continued. “You know we’re going to put somebody out there on the 29th and right now it’s still up in the air who it’s going to be.”
** UNC’s defense struggled in the first scrimmage of training camp due in part to a rash of injuries. With a number of those players back in the mix – including linebacker Tommy Heffernan and cat safety Dominique Green – the defense showed improvement in Saturday’s second scrimmage.
“We were better at not giving up big plays,” associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning said. “I think there were three runs and one pass that we considered big plays. We had a bunch of sacks, a bunch of tackles for loss. We did not create any takeaways, though, and that was a major concern.”
The defense substituted liberally, according to Koenning, as various first-teamers only took 25-30 snaps.
While Kevin Reddick was a primary blitzer out of necessity in 2012, Koenning acknowledged that he has various options this fall at his disposal, highlighting defensive end Kareem Martin and Bandits Norkeithus Otis, Darius Lipford and Mikey Bart. He also praised two-way player Jack Tabb for his ability to rush the passer.
During Monday’s two-minute drill, UNC notched a couple of sacks using different guys from different positions, according to Koenning.
The defense spent the morning working on matching up the various formations that South Carolina runs.
“We’re just trying to get the best guys in the best positions now and narrow the game plan down so when we get down there and that dadgum rooster’s in that cage shaking it and everybody’s losing their mind, we can still focus and do our assignments right,” Koenning said. “Coach [Steve] Spurrier has got so many packages and so many plays and so many different things he can give you. You can’t try to show your players all of it because you’ll have paralysis by analysis. So we’re just trying to have some rules and just go play fast.”
North Carolina’s season-opener in Columbia is 10 days away on Aug. 29.