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UNC Football: ACC Media Day

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The sights and sounds from UNC’s portion of the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte.

NCAA Football: ACC Kickoff Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina’s contingent of Coach Larry Fedora, senior CB M. J. Stewart, and junior OT Bentley Spain were the last group to enter the morning photo session with the other players and coaches. They were also the last group scheduled to speak to the media. Below are some of the things that were seen and heard during UNC’s time at the ACC Media Days in Charlotte.

Head Coach Larry Fedora:

  • Naturally there was a lot of talk about the quarterback situation:

On Chazz Surratt:

“Chazz is doing a nice job. He's coming along just like we expect him. He's developing in the offense. The guy that's going to win that job is going to be a guy that can lead our football team, one. He's got to be able to make good decisions and take care of the football, and if he does those things, keeps moving those chains beyond the white lines, then he can be a guy that can help us be successful.”

“Chazz is a tremendous athlete who’s extremely fast. Can run and throw it. He’s a lefty. He’s lead his teams to state championships, both on the field and in basketball. He has a chance to be really good.”

On Brandon Harris:

“Brandon got there and I went on vacation so I really don’t have a good feel for where he is yet.”

Brandon Harris is a guy who, coming out of high school, we thought really fit what we do. He can run. He can throw it. He’s got a strong arm and he’s played in big games. He’s not going to get rattled. He’s thrown touchdowns. He’s thrown interceptions. He understands that part of it. It’s going to be how quickly he can learn everything and integrate into our football team.”

“I expect him to know the offense when we get to the first day of practice. If he does that, then I know that he’s serious about it and wants to be the starter and can compete for the job. If he doesn’t know it and he’s trying to learn what do to, he’s got no chance because those other three guys know what to do. He won’t get enough reps to establish himself as “the guy.” So, he’s got to know it before we start.”

“We recruited Brandon out of high school. We liked that he could run and throw, both. We’re always looking for dual threat quarterbacks and he was one of the top ones in the country.”

On Nathan Elliot:

“Nathan is a lefty that throws the ball well. He’s made good decisions in practice. He’s the only guy on our football team, right now, that has any experience in our offense. He’s not going to be the fastest guy out there, but he can run the football.”

On Logan Byrd:

“He’s about 6’3” and 225 pounds. He can run and has a really strong arm. He’s in that learning stage of learning the offense and being a guy that can have great presence behind the center.”

  • Another point of highlight was the strength of the defense

Coach Fedora was asked about the change from former Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik to new Coordinator John Papuchis:

“When we hired Gene, he hadn’t been a defensive coordinator in ten years, so there were some things in the game that he needed to adjust to. Gene really leaned on JP (John Papuchis). JP was the defensive coordinator at Nebraska. So they put together the defense together. So when Gene left, it was natural for JP to move into that spot. I think the transition has been very smooth.”

On the importance of the defense to make an immediate impact:

“With as many young guys that are going to be playing offensively, I think the defense is going to need to play well so that those guys and grow up.”

On the importance of returning top tacklers Andre Smith, Cole Holcomb, and Donnie Miles and what they bring to this defense and the experience that they have

“Donnie has played the longest on this defense, so he's a guy that is one of the leaders because he's been out there and played in a lot of games. You know, Donnie is a guy that will -- he's going to come out and hit you. He's going to make plays for us. And then you take Smith and Holcomb, two young guys, but they've played a lot of football. Holcomb is from the state of Florida. They both are, Andre Smith and Holcomb are both from the state of Florida. Both of them can really run. Andre has really developed into that true Mike linebacker that you're looking for, a guy that can have everybody in the right position, a guy that demands respect, a guy that has respect by his teammates. And so actually that group in the linebacker position along with Cayson Collins really can be the strength of our defense this year.”

  • Fedora was pressed with questions about the young receiving corps and the loss of so much talent in Bug Howard, Ryan Switzer, and Mack Hollins:

“It's hard any time you lose guys of that caliber, but it's something that we do in college football every year. You have a group of seniors that leave, so you hope you've done a good job of recruiting. You hope you've done a good job of establishing your culture so that the kids understand what it means to be a Tar Heel, what the expectation level is. I think our older guys now teach our younger guys. I'm going to expect guys like Rontavius Groves and Thomas Jackson and those guys to step into that role at that slot and be good football players, because they can. They learned a lot from Ryan, and if they develop the same way Ryan developed, they're going to be really good football players.”

On Austin Proehl and his progression as a leader of the receiving corps:

“He’s done a real nice job. He’s got a lot of respect on the team. He’s done a nice job throughout the entire off-season and summer getting those guys prepared, getting them out there, making sure they’re doing what they need to do.”

Asked to pick a position group he’s confident about and one he has the most concerns about on either side of the ball:

“I feel pretty good about our tight ends and I’m really concerned about our offensive line, quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers. I feel pretty good about our linebackers, defensive line, and some spots in our secondary. I feel more comfortable with where we are defensively.”

Senior CB M. J. Stewart:

On being a leader:

“As a leader, I’ll step in when I need to step in. I don’t feel like I need to say something every time we have a team activity. If we’re at OTA’s and somebody’s goofing off or I feel like the practice isn’t going the way it’s supposed to go, that’s when I’ll step in an say ‘Hey, we’ve got to get right. We’ve got things to accomplish.’”

On the personality of this year’s football team:

“I would say hungry. Just for the fact that there are so many questions surrounding our team, quarterback situation, the production that left, the defense, how we're going to hold up and be the backbone, so many questions. And you know, we use that as a team to motivate us, and we have people saying we're going to be under seven wins. I think the prediction was like fifth in the Coastal Division. We just use that as motivation, and I constantly remind the guys that we are a team that needs to be reckoned with in the ACC, and the guys really take that on, and they work hard and we work hard all summer. And we're going to continue to work hard through training camp and be one of the best teams in the ACC and in the country.”

On the young guys on the defensive side of the ball:

“I just see great work ethic from them. This off-season they've been working really hard, working on their craft, and they just make it fun. You know, the young boys, especially K.J., he's a character. He just makes it fun, and that's what you play football for, brotherhood.”

On the emphasis that the defense is a key to success:

“I would consider it an honor that the team is relying on the defense this year. To be the backbone of a team, like I said, it's an honor. So we're going to take that head on, and we use that as motivation defensively to show people that we're one of the best defenses in the nation.”

Junior OT Bentley Spain:

  • On Thursday, the Outland Trophy Watch List was released and Spain found his name among 80 other interior linemen. The trophy is presented each year to the best interior lineman by the FWAA.

On welcoming in the transfers of Cam Dillard and Khaliel Rogers to the offensive line:

“I think the great thing about our O-line is that we're a group of guys that really isn't competitive with each other. We just want each other to do well and be a successful unit. We've welcomed these guys with open arms and we're excited to have them, and all it does it build more depth on our O-line, which is always a plus.”

On being named to the Outland Trophy watch-list and the motivation it provides:

“It’s extremely exciting and extremely humbling. I’m honored to be a part of it, but my focus right now is on making this team, the offense and the offensive line, as successful as we can be. I’m just trying to help out the young guys and be the best player I can be to make that happen.”

I also pressed members of both the UNC and Duke contingents about the impact on the intensity and meaning of the game with the rivalry match up coming in late September versus six to eight weeks later in mid-to-late November.

Duke Senior Cornerback Bryon Fields, Jr.

Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe

UNC Junior Offensive Lineman Bentley Spain

UNC Head Coach Larry Fedora