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April 25, 2011
The desire to be a college football player must be tremendous because the hard work continues for nearly every day in all 12 months of the year.
In some ways, what each player does every between now and the start of summer camp will have as much relevance to how strong the Tar Heels will be in 2011 as what they accomplished playing a year ago or in the recently completed spring practice.
Red-shirt sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner is a perfect example. He will throw hundreds of passes with his receivers between now and the start of preseason camp in August.
"He's talented," Coach Butch Davis said. "He's got skills, but it's a learning experience every day. I love his attitude. I love his hunger to work hard and to get better, and we think that he's definitely moving in the right direction."
Just as important, Renner will watch film, lots of film. Renner is an immensely gifted quarterback, but he acknowledges that he must do a better job with his pre-snap reads of the defenses and not focusing solely on the receiver he plans to throw the ball.
"The starting point in the development of a quarterback is obviously is his passion to learn and to get better," Davis said. "In the off-season you're so limited because of the access that you have with the athlete that a lot of that is relegated to how much is he willing to come in and watch film? And I think that Bryn did a very good job.
"He came in, not only did he watch all of T.J. Yates' games over the last couple of years, he looked at a lot of his own personal practice cut-ups from last year. He's studying quarterbacks that are playing in the National Football League that he has similar skills and traits to kind of look at how those guys perform and how they play, the style in which they play."
Part of what has to happen for a newcomer to the college game is learning how to watch film. Many of them were so much better than the competition in high school that they got away with looking at film in a broad scope.
Collegiate and professional players learn an entirely different kind of focus on film. They study tendencies. They watch those critical first movements a defense or offense makes, looking for that slight edge that can separate winning and losing.
But this time of year, it is just as important that they study themselves. For receivers, how did they get off the line at the snap? Did they allow defensive backs to jam them? Were they sloppy with their routes? Did they round their cuts or give half-halfhearted efforts on double moves?
Running backs can look to see if they kept their heads up and played explosively but with enough patience at the same time to hit the creases their linemen created. That split second between recognition and explosion can determine whether a carry yields a yard or 5.
The coaching staff played with so many of the same kids during Davis' first years at Carolina that they had to take a different approach this season with a collection of relatively new faces spread among the probably two-deep.
"Obviously this spring was dramatically different than spring a year ago," Davis said, "where we had a significant number of returning starters, a lot of guys that had been in the program for many years with an awful lot of experience.
"This spring was more about going back to basics and to fundamentals because of a tremendous number of young players at a lot of positions."