Charlotte Scrimmage Notes
CHARLOTTE - Carolina football took the show on the road for a practice at Mallard Creek High School Thursday evening. It was the first scrimmage of the spring, so there was some rust. For the most part, the first team offense against the first team defense, then the second-teamers against each other. Carolina saw some good things and some things to work on. Here are a few thoughts:
Backfield in motion
Larry Fedora is going to get the 'Gio question' until the season starts in late August. Who's going to replace Giovani Bernard? Well, no one. Gio is a unique talent whose skills made him the first back-to-back 1,000-yard Tar Heel rusher in 20 years (Natrone Means). But, Bernard also benefited from a tremendous offensive line and an offense that allowed him to find space on the field. Much of that offensive line will have to be replaced, but the offense remains the same, or in fact is more advanced in year two under Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson. All that is to say, Carolina has two veteran rushers in A.J. Blue and Romar Morris, and talented early enrollee Khris Francis in the backfield (heralded incoming freshman T.J. Logan hits campus this summer). On Thursday, both Blue and Morris showed off tremendous speed. Official stats weren't kept, but both backs had multiple touchdowns. Among them were Blue's catch-and-run score that went about 80 yards, and Morris's 94-yard touchdown run. Blue and Morris rotated reps with the first team, while Francis primarily operated with the second team. "Gio, he's a unique player. There are not many people in the country like him," Blue said. "I'm not really trying to fill the void of Gio. I'm playing this position just to help the team win."
The Tar Heel offense put up a ton of points Thursday, with the only defensive or special teams score coming on a muffed Romar Morris punt return, which Brandon Ellerbe recovered for a score. Defensive end Kareem Martin said he felt the defense gave up too many big plays and would have to watch film and make adjustments before next Friday's scrimmage in Greensboro. Carolina will miss defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and linebacker Kevin Reddick in the middle of the defense. Tim Jackson and Shaun Underwood have experience on the defensive line, but the linebacker corps will feature a lot of new faces. "Having to plug Kevin's spot will be a lot tougher than it will be to plug Sly's spot, just from an experience standpoint," Martin said. As for the leadership Williams and Reddick provided, Martin said he himself planned to step forward. Some names that jumped out on defense Thursday: Shakeel Rashad, Junior Gnonkonde, and Dan Mastromatteo, a redshirt freshman from Absecon, N.J. Mastromatteo seemed to be all over the field, and his name gave PA announcer Greg Tilley fits.
Freshman quarterback Mitch Trubisky looked like a natural running Anderson's offense. The early enrollee from Mentor, Ohio is the first signal-caller to enroll early under Anderson, and he played with poise and confidence. Anderson called plays from the press box. After a particularly nice Trubisky read, the offensive coordinator smiled. "That's a high school senior right there," he said to anyone who would listen. "Mitch ought to still be in high school and he commanded the offense pretty good out there," Fedora said after the scrimmage. "He never lost it, he understood what was going on, they understand what he's wanting to do so that's a good a thing I think that was big for him, just to get live reps tonight."
It will be odd not to see Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd at receiver come the fall, but prolific pass-catcher Quinshad Davis returns for his sophomore season, and Sean Tapley hauled in 26 catches a year ago. Carolina's quarterbacks are going to sling the ball, and a lot of receivers saw time Thursday. Damien Washington, Kendrick Singleton, Kedrick Davis, Jordan Darty and Jordan Fieulleteau in particular made an impact.
Fedora said the staff would review the film and make some depth chart adjustments on Monday. On Friday at 7 p.m., they'll scrimmage at Greensboro's Grimsley High School. Fedora will speak to the crowd at a Rams Club tailgate beginning at 5.