CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina offensive coordinator Seth Littrell will probably never admit it, but his eyes probably lit up like a mad scientist over the summer.
When Littrell, in his second season in Chapel Hill saw what the UNC offense had returning, how could he not help but get excited about what was at his disposal? Ten starters return from an offense that averaged 429.8 yards and 33 points per game.
If Littrell were in a lab looking for the formula for a perfect offense he could pour in 1,973 total rushing yards returning in 2015, to go along with 26 touchdowns. Add to that 3,023 receiving yards, and a quarterback who set 18 school records a year ago.
Of the 16 players who caught at least one pass last season, 13 return – including quarterback Marquise Williams, who caught two passes last year, one going for a touchdown. Behind closed doors, Littrell should probably be the most excited offensive coordinator in the country, at least the ACC. But of course, as a coach, he would never let one believe that’s the case.
“It’s a new year,” Littrell said in classic coach speak. “We have a lot of guys with game experience, but there is a lot of youth. Every season is a new season, but I’m excited about where we are headed, but at the end of the day we have to go out and make plays, and see where we’re at. We will get a better gage after game one.”
Sure, it’s a new team. There has been some movement – out with the departed players, in with the fresh faces – but when Littrell looks at his unit, the offense, he doesn’t need many guys to wear nametags to identify themselves.
The entire offensive line returns, every back who got a touch last season, and perhaps the deepest receiver unit in the conference, led by 6-4, 220 pound senior Quinshad Davis, who has seen so much in his four years (he has the most starts on the roster) it’s hard for opposing defenses to catch him off guard.
“To tell you the truth,” Davis said, “I can line up and tell you pretty much what everybody does on the defense on my half of the field. It’s so easy now to read coverages, being that I’ve been here four years and watched film on just about everybody we play. Nothing has really changed about the defenses … it’s a lot easier for me.”
The challenge these days for Littrell is just that – challenging a unit that has seen so much. The players admit there is more thrown at them at camp this year: more plays installed, different formations, various checkdowns. Davis said it’s nothing they can’t handle. In their fourth and final season together, Williams and Davis have gotten to the point where they can look at a defense, and know what to expect from each other without saying a word. Littrell also added that compared to last year this time, Williams is “more comfortable in the system.” Through three weeks of camp the senior from Charlotte has been more consistent in the passing game and understanding what the defenses are trying to do, according to Littrell. He admitted “it’s easier to game plan” when you have so many returning players. They get the concepts and why they do things a certain way.
“That’s a bonus,” Littrell said. “But every single day you have to continue to teach and continue to grow.”
Littrell also likes the depth at each position, good enough to raise the bar this year. The offense averaged 151.8 rushing yards per game last season. This year Littrell wants them to average 200. Not much of a reach when you consider the talent, plus the offensive line being a year older. The receivers, according to Davis, compete with each other regularly in practice, and that translate to Saturday’s, when no matter who catches the passes, equals to success for the Heels.
“Hopefully we peak throughout this season,” Littrell said. “And when we do we will be really good.”
- North Carolina was in full gear on Tuesday.
- Speaking of gear, the scout team players were wearing garnet jerseys, meaning UNC is in full preparation for the South Carolina game.
- Elaborate play cards were put to use for the Heels’ offense. Assistants on the sidelines held up cards with various, random pictures to signal in plays. One card had a picture of John Travolta from Grease on the top, and the Spiderman logo on the bottom.
- The shuffle in the secondary continues for the UNC defense. The starters on Tuesday were M.J. Stewart and Des Lawrence at the cornerback spots, with Donnie Miles and Sam Smiley at the safety positions.
- One of the best things to watch are the post practice interviews, mainly because of how the players quickly remind you that they are still college kids. While one player is being interviewed, it has become common practice for other players to stand behind the media crowd and do whatever they can to distract the player being interviewed. It happens after every practice. The highlight today was Mitch Trubisky. While taking questions from about five reporters, Trubisky’s teammates Bug Howard, Marquise Williams and Lucas Crowley made faces in an attempt to get Trubisky to laugh. Didn’t take long as the sophomore from Ohio broke character about 15 seconds in.