Fourth and Long

Published 8:34 am Thursday, April 15, 2010

It’s mid April and this is the time of year when Carolina fans are trained to reflect on the basketball season that just came to a close and begin to look forward to next year. It’s a time to talk about what was, what could have been and what will certainly be next season.

Things are a bit different this year and not for the reason you might expect.

The cause of excitement in and around Chapel Hill is Carolina Football. The Tar Heels have a roster full of talented reasons to get excited about UNC gridiron campaign and for those of you that think I am alone in feeling this way, I assure you there are at least 30,000 other people that are almost as excited as I am.

That’s the number of people who attended Saturday’s spring game in Chapel Hill. It’s an impressive number when you consider that over the last decade or so Carolina spring games have averaged an attendance between 2,000 to 4,000 people. That was until about four years ago when the Butch Davis era began.

With it came excitement, credibility and hope.

Eventually the Davis era brought with it success and as is the trademark of all successful football programs – it has created expectations. After consecutive 8-5 seasons Carolina fans are excited about their odds at a conference championship and national contention.

Many would think these expectations are lofty or even unreasonable and that remains to be seen. I can tell you that from what I saw on Saturday those expectations may not be as unrealistic as some might think.

First and foremost the Tar Heel defense is nothing short of incredible. They return most of their starters from a defense that ranked sixth in the country last year and if the spring game was any indication they have done nothing but get better.

Their defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. Hertford County native Tydreke Powell faced double teams throughout most of the game and kept both of his blockers more than busy. The linebackers consistently found their way into the backfield and the secondary snagged six…count em’ six interceptions.

What impressed me most however was their depth. I knew the starters would be good, but the backups at almost every position were impressive. The veterans on defense have taken a leadership and mentoring role with the younger guys and it was apparent in their play and effort. The Carolina defense is strong, fast and deep.

Despite the success of their defense most fans came out in hopes of seeing an improved offense. Depending on what they were watching they may have gotten their wish. Throughout the offseason (and even a lot of last season) rumors have been swirling about a redshirt freshman quarterback by the name of Bryn Renner. People talked like he was the best quarterback on the roster, including senior and three-year starter T.J. Yates.

While I am not ready to declare him the starter (as if I had a say), I can say that his performance on Saturday did nothing to hurt his reputation. Renner was efficient, poised and crafty with the football. He is much more mobile than Yates and on this day at least did a much better job of finding the open man, creating opportunities and moving the chains.

He led the white team 60 yards on the opening drive and his touchdown pass to Greg Little was a thing of beauty. Renner got flushed out of the pocket, rolled to his left and tossed a finesse pass to a barely open Little near the sideline of the endzone.

The running game never really got started, but that was to be expected. The Heels were missing two of their featured backs and while they have a lot more depth on the offensive line they are still young and will require some time to learn to play well with each other. One of the few bright spots along the O-Line was Bertie alumnus Travis Bond.

Bond found himself matched mano-e-mano with future first round draft pick Marvin Austin and more than held his own. Bond’s size could never be questioned, but the obvious work he has put into the weight room, in film study and on his footwork was put on display Saturday. Bond was impressive and seems to have solidified his spot at right guard.

I know it’s spring and I know this isn’t the SEC, but if you get a chance take a look at what the Heels have going in within their football program. There’s a reason to be excited about Carolina football again. Trust me…30,000 people can’t be wrong.

David Friedman is a long-time contributor to the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at