CHAPEL HILL – Offensive standouts James Hurst, Gio Bernard and T.J. Thope spoke about their growing comfort level with the spread offense.
As the starting left tackle, junior James Hurst made the preseason Lombardi Award Watch List for the top lineman or linebacker in the nation.
Q: Are you more comfortable after having the summer to learn the new spread offense?
“Definitely so. I think that having more time will certainly give you a better chance to learn the offense. The coaching staff has been great in giving us tapes and things to watch on our own time to get better with the offense.
Q: Have you adjusted to the tempo yet?
“I think that’s still work in progress and I don’t think we’re going to be adjusted to it until the game comes. Obviously we haven’t played a game yet so I think it’s going to be tough to know … you can scrimmage all you want but it’s not going to be a game until September 4th.
Q: How has your weight fluctuated with the new S&C staff?
“I was light in the spring. I lost 5-10 pounds in the spring but I’m back up now to about 305. The nutritionists and strength staff have really been good about getting us where we want to be. I’m where I want to be.”
Q: How big was the emphasis in the off-season to be in better shape?
“I think everyone knows that we’re going to be going at a higher pace and to do that we need to be in better shape. A lot of the offensive linemen were struggling with weight problems and we addressed that early and I think that’s going to pay off. I know lot of the guys are happy at where they are.”
Sophomore running back Giovani Bernard became the first UNC running back to break the 1,000 yard mark since ’97 when he rushed for 1,253 yards last season.
Q: How is your relationship with (back-up RB) Romar Morris after his big spring game?
“He’s one of my good buddies, a year younger than me and as a running back you want to get pushed by your teammates...We watch film together and we’re always hanging out. I think that’s the best thing about our running back crew. I think A.J. Blue has done a great job as a centerpiece of the crew. He’s the oldest guy out there and I think he’s done a great job in helping us to be better teammates, friends and just helped us mold together.
Q: Was there any worry when you heard about the spread coming?
“Not at all. You just want to get the ball in your hands whether its from a toss or a pass from the backfield…you just want to be able to help your team produce. That’s the mentality I had and during the spring I was still able to get a lot of carries so I wasn’t too worried about it.”
Q: Have you noticed Bryn Renner moving better now that he’s completely healthy?
Bernard said he's seen a more confidence in the now healthy Renner
“Definitely. He’s my roommate and you can just tell that he’s more confident about himself. He knows the offense, he knows what he has to do and he’s able to run without the ankle injuries that he’s had before. It shows out on the practice field and in the weight room.”
Q: How is practice going so far?
“I think the spring helped us tremendously because we came out here on the first day and everyone knew what they had to do and we weren’t just running around. We knew what to expect. We’re just installing more stuff and everything is going well.”
Q: What are the emotions like with the start of practice?
“I think everyone is just excited for the season and excited for the new UNC era that we have going on. The ‘Fedora Era’ that I’ve been hearing a lot about. It’s just something that we want to help the University out and show that the NCAA sanctions won’t stop us from what we have to do. We can only handle what we can on the field and we come out here everyday to work and that’s what we plan to do.
Sophomore T.J. Thorpe saw action in all 13 games as a true freshman last season and set numerous kick return records while also gaining experience as a wide receiver.
Q: How excited are you to be playing in the spread offense?
“It’s a wide receivers dream. It’s one of the things that you always want. Last season we wanted more balls thrown our way. In the spring, every practice you’re getting almost 50 balls in 7on7 and in ‘team’ drills alone being thrown your way. That just lets you show your athletic ability and sets you up to make plays.”
Q: What did the wide receivers have to do to get conditioned to play in this offense?
“You have to be able to take on the workload. Missing out on the huddle component, which was used to catch our breath, we’ve been running longer distances … we do more quick paced stuff and more reps. I think that helps us get our wind back.
“Everyone has to eat right whether you’re a skill player or a lineman. We feel like all of that just goes hand in hand.”
Q: Did you pick up where you left off on the first day from the end of the spring?
“Honestly we didn’t go as fast because everyone is going to be a little bit out of it. The first practice was probably the slowest practice that we’ll have and I think that says a lot about how fast we’re going.”
Q: What were your off-season goals that you wanted to work on?
“I wanted to get my legs back underneath me. I wanted to catch more balls. I was a little disappointed…I didn’t drop a lot of balls but I wanted to make the spectacular catch, the tough catch, the catch in traffic so I tried to work on hand-eye coordination drills.”
Q: With everyone else seeming losing weight, looks like you gained some weight?
“I actually put on about 13 pounds since the last season. I was at 200 in the spring but I lost about 5 pounds over the summer but I kept the muscle mass. I’m at about 195.”