As the days wind down to North Carolina's season opener Saturday night against The Citadel in Kenan Stadium, third-year Tar Heel offensive coordinator John Shoop feels good about where his unit is at.
"We feel good about where we are. I think we're getting better and better and we're steadily improving," he said. "We're getting some guys healthy again and I think it's just in time here as we start to game plan for The Citadel. So I think our guys really buy into what our identity is going to be, and I feel good about where we are."
One of the biggest keys to this summer's training camp for UNC was ensuring that there would be some quality depth along the offensive line after several players with remaining eligibility at the guard and tackle positions either left the program or were lost to injury.
"We're developing some depth in the O-line and the tight end, and those are things that we really needed to develop," Shoop said. "I think one of the things we're doing really well is we are developing some depth in the offensive line. There's some young guys that are getting a lot of work---Brennan Williams, Travis Bond."
"Cam Holland is stepping his game up, and there's a lot of young guys that are getting work. Greg Elleby as well. I include him switching over (from defense to offense). I think that's really going to help us throughout the season," Shoop added. We've always felt good about the five guys that are starting, but now we're starting to feel good about eight, nine guys that we've got playing, too."
Getting into the quarterbacks, Shoop indicated that there's been heated competition all summer for the coveted spots on the depth chart, and he feels the competition between T.J. Yates, Mike Paulus, Braden Hanson, and Bryn Renner has brought out the best in all four signal-callers.
"All our quarterbacks---I feel good about the depth that we have at the quarterback position. I think all the guys are playing well right now," he said. "I think the competitiveness in the room is bringing out the best in all the guys. I want to thank them."
"Braden (Hanson) and Mike (Paulus) and Bryn Renner have been competing like all get-out," Shoop added. "Mike and Braden, specifically, are both playing better football right now than I think they ever have at any time that they've been in a Carolina uniform, and Bryn Renner is certainly as competitive as they come. Nobody's getting real comfortable at the position, because he (Renner) is not coming here to sit on the bench."
"I think Bryn is getting there. I think having some competition brings out the best in you if you're a competitive guy. And we've tried to do it the right way and I think all these guys are competing hard."
Shoop went into more detail about Paulus, who still finds himself in position to be a primary backup at quarterback despite strong charges this summer from both Hanson and Renner.
"Coaches sometimes evaluate quarterbacks in a lot of different ways. Different ways than maybe scouts evaluate them, or fans," Shoop said. "Mike's got a big arm. Mike's a big, strong guy. What Mike's learning to do is kind of play the position well, and it's something that T.J. (Yates) needed to learn as well."
"He's developing touch. He's developing being accurate to the left side of the field, opening his hips, and he's understanding that really I'm more of a point guard, and it's not really about me. It's about distributing the ball to good teammates," Shoop added.
"I think that he (Paulus) has really worked hard to develop some mid-range touch, getting the ball over the linebackers but down before it gets to the safeties. It's something that T.J. has naturally, and Mike's really worked at that. I think he's also worked hard at throwing the ball to his left and really getting the belly facing his target."
"Sometimes there's real small things that fans don't recognize, but man, if the quarterback can just get this down it makes a great deal of difference in his game," Shoop continued. "I think Mike has tried to identify some of those things and he's really worked hard on trying to strengthen his weaknesses, and I think all his teammates admire him for that."
"I think he's gotten more confidence. I don't want to speak for Mike, but I think he would agree. He's got confidence in his ability, and he's got knowledge of the offense. I think Braden does too."
During the offseason, all of the quarterbacks spent a great deal of time focusing on certain fundamental techniques that the coaches asked them to work on.
In the case of Yates, now a three-year starter, one big thing was not looking to hit the home run quite so much, and be more willing to settle for something smaller in route to the end zone.
"Quarterbacking is a real craft. It's not just how big is your arm (and) how hard can you throw the ball," Shoop said. "In the offseason they worked a great deal on their own, but we certainly identified things that they needed to work on."
"In T.J.'s first year as a freshman, his first playing experience, he pulled out that driver way too much and was throwing the ball downfield," he added. "I think that he's learned now that for us to be good I've got to score well, and maybe hit some shorter shots and get the ball to different guys, and I think Mike is learning that as well."