Carolina brings in graduate transfers as offensive reinforcements

With much of its offense moving on to the NFL, North Carolina has brought in reinforcements in the form of four graduate transfers. The offensive line, including the tight ends, was already the strongest part of the offense coming into 2017. But now they’ve added Cam Dillard, who played at Florida and projects as the starting center. Also, Khaliel Rodgers, who started nine games during his injury-plagued career at Southern Cal, is competing for time at the guard position. “They’re both really good guys off the field and we’re happy to have them,” said senior tackle Bentley Spain, who added […]

With much of its offense moving on to the NFL, North Carolina has brought in reinforcements in the form of four graduate transfers.

The offensive line, including the tight ends, was already the strongest part of the offense coming into 2017. But now they’ve added Cam Dillard, who played at Florida and projects as the starting center. Also, Khaliel Rodgers, who started nine games during his injury-plagued career at Southern Cal, is competing for time at the guard position.

“They’re both really good guys off the field and we’re happy to have them,” said senior tackle Bentley Spain, who added that the offensive linemen have already been bonding through non-football related activities including a pool party.

“The good thing about our o-line is that we’re not the kind of guys who are flashy and want glam,” he said. “At the end of the day if you win the job, you win the job, if you don’t, you don’t. You can’t be angry at someone personally who got something that you didn’t.”

Some players may also share time at positions, like tight ends Brandon Fritts, a junior, and Carl Tucker, a sophomore. Both did well last season and are likely to play bigger roles in the offense.

The third graduate transfer, Stanton Truitt from Auburn, could see a lot of time at running back depending on the progress of sophomore Jordon Brown, the only returning runner, who had only 20 carries a year ago and the development of freshman Michael Carter, who was the 2016 USA Florida Offensive Player of the Year in high school.

Truitt ran for 215 yards and scored three times for Auburn in two seasons there.

Fedora said all the backs are good runners but playing time will come down to how quickly they learn the protections, the blocking schemes.

The fourth offensive graduate transfer has gotten the most attention but he’s been in the fold for the shortest amount of time. In hopes of replacing Mitch Trubisky at quarterback, Brandon Harris transferred from LSU, where he had lost his starting job.

Harris started every game as a sophomore and played in 25 games during his career with LSU. He lost his starting job last season in Week 2. After graduating this summer, he is eligible to play immediately at Carolina as a graduate transfer.

“We wanted someone with experience because we don’t have any quarterbacks with experience,” Fedora said. “Whether he’s just in the room or on the practice field or actually playing, we needed some experience.”

Nathan Elliott is the only returner who has experience on the college level as the lefty completed eight of nine passes for 55 yards a season ago. Coming out of spring practice, he probably had the lead over redshirt freshmen Logan Byrd and Chazz Surratt.

Elliott throws well and makes good decisions, Fedora said, but while he can run the ball, he’s not fast.

Surratt, on the other hand, is fast and a tremendous athlete with a strong arm, Federa said, and he has a chance to be really good – the implication being that he’s not there yet.

Byrd is big and strong with a good arm and he can run as well but he is still learning the offense.

So, will Harris start? Well, they wanted him to come. They wanted him when he was in high school. He can run and he has played in big games. While he has a strong arm, he isn’t known as an accurate passer. So, again, will he start? “It really depends on how quickly he can learn everything and how he integrates into our football team.”

Of course that goes for all the QB candidates, Fedora said, adding that fitting into the chemistry of the team will be crucial for whomever is named the starter.

“I know were not ready to name a starter now and I’m not going to,” Fedora said rebuffing media attempts to tip his hand.

He noted that last year at this time, people were asking about a new starting quarterback by the name of Mitch Trubisky. “He wound up being the second pick in the draft,” Fedora said. “It can happen. What can’t it be us?”

Fedora said that the jury is still out on how picking up graduate transfers is going to work out, saying he’s never tried it before.

“I believe chemistry is so important to a football team,” he said. “How quickly can you get these guys integrated into your team? If it’s something we have success with, it’s something we’ll continue to do.”

However, schools don’t really recruit graduate transfers as the prospective players reach out to the schools.

“More and more guys are doing it for whatever reason,” Fedora said. “They’re looking to see the best fit for them.”

He said that players around the country are showing interest in transferring to Carolina after seeing the success the team has had and the success the coaching staff has had in developing players into NFL draft picks.

For UNC football, some of them are starting to go to the NFL early, opening the door to transfers.