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August 21, 2012UNC sophomore tight end Sean Fitzpatrick has stepped up this summer as a key component of North Carolina's new spread offense. He's been seen throughout training camp in practice working in with the first and second team units.
For a player that briefly considered moving over to defense when Larry Fedora and his staff first got to Chapel Hill, he's come a long way in a short period of time.
"When the new staff first got here there was a little bit of talk about (me moving to) 'Bandit,' but then I just decided to stick at tight end." Fitzpatrick told Tar Heel Illustrated a few days ago.
Fitzpatrick is no stranger to moving around on the football field. In high school he even played some quarterback, and while he won't be called upon to take the reigns of UNC's no-huddle scheme anytime soon, he is finding a role as a 'Y' tight end.
"I think we'd be in trouble if that was the case (me having to play quarterback)," Fitzpatrick joked.
"(I've been playing) mostly the 'Y' tight end, or in the slot, just blocking for screens and (getting involved) in the passing game as well. I want to do whatever they (the coaches) want me to do, but I'm happy where I'm at."
With the Tar Heels missing multiple veteran receivers in camp, including fellow sophomores T.J. Thorpe and Reggie Wilkins, its been incumbent on Fitzpatrick and fellow UNC tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Tabb to help out considerably more in the passing game than in previous years.
"Anyone can make plays in this offense. It's not just designed to go to one person. It can go to anyone at any given time," he said.
In Fitzpatrick, Ebron, and Tabb, UNC has a group of tight ends that can give the offense even more versatility, and Fitzpatrick has found himself lined in in the slot, in the offensive backfield at A-Back, and spread out as a receiver at various points this summer.
"I think the reason why we have so much depth (at tight end) is because each of us can do different things, and we're very flexible in all that we do. You've got Ebron, who is a phenomenal receiver but he would surprise a lot of people too with his blocking. Same with (Jack) Tabb. And I think I'm a pretty good blocker," Fitzpatrick said.
In recent workouts UNC has taken advantage of its solid depth at tight end by implementing some two-tight end sets, getting those guys on the field together a little more.
"Definitely we've seen a lot more two tight end sets, and that's two tight ends both in the slot. So just spreading out the field with bigger bodies, helping block on screens. Wherever they need us," Fitzpatrick said. "It's definitely really exciting."
"When this new offense showed up, you just heard about how explosive it was and how many opportunities present themselves when you're in this offense, so that makes every single player happy."
The biggest adjustment for Fitzpatrick during the spring and in training camp this summer has been downfield blocking.
Unlike his first two years of college, where he was trained more as a hand-to-the-ground pro-style tight end, now he's finding himself making blocks all over the place as opposing to merely around the line of scrimmage.
"Definitely blocking in space, and just having the flexibility to stay with the linebackers and safeties (has been my biggest area of focus)," he said. "You're not always going to be on the line in this offense, so you've got to be prepared to block the smaller, quicker guys."
Fitzpatrick didn't have to worry about losing or gaining a whole bunch of weight during the offseason, and after shedding a few pounds during the heat-filled grind of training camp, he's where he wants to be and is ready to go for the fall.
"I gained a little bit this summer because I knew I was going to lose some during training camp. It kind of happens every year for me. I came in at 255 (pounds) and now I'm down to 250, and that's probably where I'll play at the rest of the season," he said.