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August 17, 2012As a first-year starting quarterback a season ago, UNC's Bryn Renner did all the necessary things to get himself ready to play in Carolina's pro-style offense, studying all the plays and spending countless hours on film evaluating himself and other defenses.
Then he had to do it all over again learning Larry Fedora and Blake Anderson's offense this year.
After an action-packed summer and offseason, this summer's training camp seems to be coming along well for the junior signal-caller, who has advanced well in the spread offense and has established himself as the heart and soul of the UNC offense.
"I think Bryn has finally started to feel comfortable. Throughout the summer, as much throwing as he did with the wide receivers and running backs and tight ends, I think he's a lot more comfortable," said Fedora of Renner.
"Probably the game has slowed down a little bit for him when he's out there."
"I really think we made a great adjustment this year. We've had less mistakes and we've picked up the tempo, which is huge," Renner added. "We've had 100 days to kind of get ready. We're just so happy to get on the field. Coach Fedora has done a great job of telling us what to do to get better."
Coach Fedora has compared Renner a little bit to his overachieving signal caller during his time at Southern Miss, Austin Davis, and certainly there are similarities.
Both were bigger QBs (Davis listed at 6-2, 220, Renner is listed at 6-3, 215), but both are athletic enough to run and move around outside the pocket. Both are heady guys who emerged as leaders on their team.
Now it's up to Renner to see if he can win like Davis did.
Over Davis's final two seasons of 2010 and 2011 at the helm of Southern Miss's offense, the Golden Eagles went 20-7 overall and played in a pair of bowl games, winning one.
"I think Bryn shows a lot of the same intangibles as a quarterback that we had back there (at Southern Miss), Austin Davis. I see Bryn being able to do some of the same things but also have more talent than Austin had," said Fedora.
Renner told us that he specifically wanted to improve this summer on his footwork.
He noticed during all the spring repetitions just how different it was moving back as a quarterback out of the spread, where most plays are run out of the shotgun, and a traditional pro-style with the quarterback under center.
"I think the tempo of my drops (was my biggest area of improvement)," Renner said.
"The footwork is entirely different than I did last year as far as being the shotgun, so I worked on that hard this summer and tried to get my timing better with the receivers."
"He just has an overall better feel for what's going on. Just how he manages the offense is easier for him at this point," added Coach Fedora. "When you start off and you go into a new style, and especially with the tempo that we go---he's responsible for a lot of things---so it can be overwhelming at first. He's doing good. He's picking things up."
"He (Renner) is a student of the game. He really works hard at the game and he wants to be really good," Fedora continued. "I feel very fortunate that Bryn is here and he's had some experience and he can make all the throws, but more importantly is the type of person Bryn is off the field."
"I've had guys before that have the talent that don't get it done because they're not the whole package. But Bryn's got the whole package, so I'm excited about that."
Throughout the first two weeks of camp the UNC coaches have deliberately tried to put Renner in difficult situations to test how he'll handle specific situations on gameday.
"We're putting him in a lot of situations right now, so there's a lot of thought process going on. Not only does he got to know what to do, but he's got to manage the game. So he's got about four times the workload that everybody else does, the quarterback does at that position," Fedora said of Renner.
"I think he's doing a nice job. Is he making mistakes? Sure he's making mistakes, because we're trying to put him in as many positions or situations to make mistakes, so we can learn them now."
"I'm always looking for a quarterback that has a will to win. He's got this tremendous will to win and be successful. You have to find out, when the bullets start flying and adversity strikes, how is he going to handle himself? That's important - especially at that position," the UNC head coach added.
"I think the spring was huge as far as getting the timing down, and getting what the coaches wanted. And then having the whole summer to get better, get in shape, and really understand what's going on," Renner added. "As far as camp's been going, I think everybody feels more comfortable and knows what the coaches expect."
Along with improved feel for the footwork and playmaking decisions in the spread offense has come increased speed and intensity on Renner's throws, as his favorite downfield target, Erik Highsmith, explained to us.
"He gets the ball in tight spaces that nobody expects him to throw in. The receivers have to catch it, but he throws a harder ball than he used to now," Highsmith said. "At first I was like, 'Man, quit throwing so hard!' but now I'm used to it and I like it. It gets to my hands faster for me to get some yards after the catch."
Another key piece of the UNC offensive backfield, running back Giovani Bernard, is rooming with Renner this year, and he sees a calmer, more confident quarterback who is better focused in on his surroundings and his expected role on the team.
"He's my roommate actually. And he's a lot more calm about himself. He knows the offense. He knows what we're all doing and it shows out there. It shows out there every day on the practice field," Bernard said.
Renner may be calmer and the game may be slowing down for him on the field during actual plays, but he's anything but calm on the practice fields the remainder of the time.
Always a high-energy player, Renner can be called upon to yell out the occasional primal scream right before the start of practice or during practice, or he will run up and give some love to a wide receiver after making a big catch.
He'll also get in the face of anybody that's not executing as he continues to mature into his role as the undisputed field general of the Tar Heel offense.
"I'm just trying to do the best I can being an energy guy. Coach Fedora wants an energy guy. We're going to run a high-tempo offense, so I've got to get the ball out quick and really just keep people motivated," Renner said.
"Camp's a long haul. So it's going to be big for our leaders not only on offense but on defense to lead."
"He gets everybody going. he's the captain of our team. I believe in him and he believes in me," added Highsmith.
While fine-tuning his throwing and game management were naturally paramount to Renner's development this August, he's been thrust into another key role due to UNC's problems with depth at wide receiver.
With T.J. Thorpe and Reggie Wilkins both out for the time being with injuries, UNC is running guys like Mark McNeill, Roy Smith, and others with very limited or no playing experience with the two-deep.
So part of Renner's duties in training camp have expanded to do a little more to bring along the wide receivers.
"As far as all the quarterbacks, we're doing a great job just letting them (the receivers) understand the playbook and letting them get a feel for where they're going to be, because it's new to everybody. It's new to them catching our passes. Luckily we don't kick it off for a little bit, so we've got a lot of time to work on that," he said.
"Losing T.J., it's a setback, and we don't know how long he's out, but as long as he's out they've got to step up and make plays. And everybody has kind of rallied around when T.J. went down. Everybody knew their role would be accelerated, so definitely they're taking on that role full-speed."
Renner, who is always deflecting the attention and praise back to his teammates, says that learning to play wide receiver in the spread is even harder than becoming a quarterback.
"I can honestly say that receiver is probably the toughest position in this offense, just going where you need to go and being where you need to be, in the right spot, and they're all picking it up great," Renner said. "We've got a great group of young guys that have come in and been really receptive of just understanding their role."
"In this offense, you've got to make tough catches. It's a throw-and-catch offense, so we've got to be on the same page. But as far as just them adapting to the offense and just being where they need to be, they're doing a great job."
"All 105 guys that are here are on the train to win 12 ball games this year, so we're definitely working one day at a time trying to get better."