CARY, N.C. — This time of year football coaches are limited to what they have on paper. Until fall camp opens, they have to stick to returning starters, award candidates and questions coming out of spring football.
What they also don’t know, as North Carolina’s Larry Fedora explained, is how soon and how often the team will deal with adversity. And how will it respond?
Fedora, who encountered an early setback when the Tar Heels lost starting offensive lineman John Ferranto to a season-ending injury, discussed his first hurdle on Monday at the National Football Foundation/Bill Dooley Chapter’s Pigskin Preview on Monday at an Embassy Suites ballroom.
On a mid-summer afternoon of football dreaming, Fedora appeared with two other ACC coaches in the Triangle area, Duke’s David Cutcliffe and N.C. State’s Dave Doeren, along with East Carolina’s Scottie Montgomery of the AAC and N.C. Central’s Jerry Mack of the MEAC.
They spoke to 1,000 fans at the National Football Foundation’s annual Bill Dooley Chapter luncheon.
— North Carolina: Ferranto, a senior returning starter shifted to right guard in spring drills, suffered a torn pectoral muscle last week that required season-ending surgery. He had 13 starts in 2014 and four starts in 2015.
“You hate to lose any player, especially a guy with his experience,” Fedora said. “He’s played four offensive line positions and is very intelligent. You hate it for him and for the football team. That’s the one thing about football season – you have no control over injuries. We’re waiting for someone to step up.”
Junior Brand Hanson, a 6-foot-5, 290-pounder, and senior Will Dancy (6-4, 310) was a redshirt last year after playing in 13 games with two starts in 2014.
— North Carolina opens Sept. 3 against Georgia in Atlanta.
— Duke: The Blue Devils lost All-American safety and ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Cash, but the Blue Devils still have five returning starters on the back end of their 4-2-5 scheme.
“We have an outstanding group of young men with a lot of experience,” Cutcliffe said. “The question marks are how mature we’re going to be in both lines. We’ve got something to prove.”
In addition to four 2015 returning starters, junior Byron Fields, a 2014 starter at corner, is back after a knee injury in fall camp ended his season.
The group is led by ACC honorable mention safety DeVon Edwards, although he will play cornerback in 2016 opposite the other returning starting corner, Breon Borders.
Senior safety Deondre Singleton is back as a starter, junior Alonzo Saxton, who started eight games at corner last year, has moved to safety this year. Junior Phillip Carter and senior Corbin McCarthy gained experienced starting games when Cash was injured and missed last year’s final two games.
— Duke opens against N.C. Central Sept. 3 at home.
— N.C. State: Doeren says the strength of his team will be the experience of the defensive line.
“We have nine guys who have played a lot of football in their defensive front,” he said.
Doeren added competition at quarterback will resume in fall camp from spring drills with a third face.
Sophomore Jalen McClendon and redshirt freshman Jakobi Meyers battled in the spring with McClendon the leader. That was before junior Ryan Finley transferred in from Boise State. He is a graduate student with two years of immediate eligibility.
Adding to the intrigue is Finley started three games last year under Eliah Drinkwitz, N.C. State’s new offensive coordinator.
— N.C. State opens the season Sept. 1 against William & Mary at home.
— East Carolina: Montgomery is building around returning skill players and a veteran transfer quarterback, Philip Nelson. He spent last fall running the scout team and established himself as the starter in spring drills. He was a starter at Minnesota before he transferred to Rutgers in 2014 without playing and then to East Carolina in 2015.
“We feel good about our skill positions,” Montgomery said. “We have extraordinary talent at some of those positions, but we have to work through some turnover on the offensive and defensive fronts.”
Quay Johnson, a junior wide receiver and return specialist, has been named to the Paul Hornung Award watch list for the nation’s most versatile player. Senior wide receiver Zay Jones has been named to the Fred Belitnikoff Award watch list for the nation’s best return man.
— East Carolina opens Sept. 3 against Western Carolina at home.
— N.C. Central: The Eagles struggled following their move from NCAA Division II to Division I Football Championship Subdivision inn 2011, but Jerry Mack has turned around the program since he was hired in 2013. The Eagles won back-to-back co-MEAC titles in 2014 and 2015 behind quarterback Malcolm Bell, a third-year starter in 2016.
“We’re very excited about this season,” Mack said. “We have a two-time all-conference quarterback. Anytime you have quarterback coming back for his third year as a starter, you have a chance to win.”
— N.C. Central opens Sept. 3 at Duke. The Durham schools are playing for the fifth time in the last six years.