CHAPEL HILL, NC--The UNC Tar Heel football team took the field for the first time in pads on Friday afternoon and again on Saturday--the third and fourth days of practice, overall. Media members were not allowed access on Friday, but head coach John Bunting shared some thoughts from what he saw. Saturday was also the final day of the UNC football clinic.
Bunting said that Friday's practice was "spirited," overall. "I like what I saw in Ronnie McGill, I'll tell you that," Bunting said. With linemen locked up on one particular play, McGill ran through a gap, with safety Dexter Reid waiting for him. "He ran over Dexter," Bunting continued. "That's pretty tough. Dexter's pretty tough."
Others who stood out, according to Bunting: Danny Rumley caught the ball well. . Clay Roberson suffered a broken nose and resumed played shortly afterwards, exhibiting toughness. And Donti Coates impressed Bunting on his DL play
Gary Tranquill has installed quite a bit of the offense. A lot of players played, especially at the quarterback position.
One goal is to try to be tougher, according to Bunting. "We want to be more physical. "We will start every practice with a physical drill, some form of tackling, or one-on-one, offense vs. defense, trying to build toughness and character into this team."
Friday's practice ended with a 12-play scrimmage. "Whoever won got to watch the other guys run gasers," Bunting said. "We are going to end every single practice with some kind of competitive drill where there are consequences. The idea is to get more competitive this spring, and the kids enjoy it."
Ronnie McGill was the player who perhaps stood out the most at Saturday's scrimmage. He comes in looking physically ready for the part of a featured running back. He is an explosive runner who hits the hole quickly and can drag tacklers with him. On several occasions he drew enthusiastic praise from UNC head coach John Bunting: "That's the way to run, Ronnie McGill! That's the way to run!"
Chad Scott also looked impressive. He had several good runs, including one of about forty yards. Scott has speed to burn, and the ability to use that speed on the football field. Scott and McGill together add a new dimension to the UNC running attack. Jacque Lewis had a nice reception during the scrimmage. Rikki Cook was used exclusively at fullback. Currently he is behind Madison Hedgecock at that position, and both Hedgecock and Cook made some hits on defenders that could have been heard in the upper levels of Kenan Stadium.
Among the wide receivers, Jarwarski Pollack appears ready to pick up where he left over last year. He had a diving catch in the end-zone for the first-team offense that scored on its first possession in the scrimmage. Derrelle Mitchell, Wallace Wright, and Michael Gilmore also did good things in the scrimmage.
Bobby Blizzard also had several catches, including one to pick up a first down on the initial offensive possession. He looks bigger and stronger; more physically capable of the blocking role necessary for a tight end.
Darian Durant looks comfortable and poised--fully in charge of the offense. He seems set to be ready to pick up where he left off last season.
The offensive line appears more confident and aggressive. At the end of one play, Steve Bell demonstrated what looks to be a new attitude when he "got physical" with a defender.
Defensively, there seems to be a new approach to scrimmages. The first, second, and third team units mix and match with each other instead of playing in a group. Particularly, the safeties and corners seemed always to be a mixed group, with the first team corners on the field with the second and third team safeties, and vice versa.
At times last season, it appeared that the defensive line lacked an emotional leader; not so this year. Even though he is being held out of practice as he recovers from a minor injury, Chase Page appears ready to take on that role with the defensive line. His encouragement and enthusiasm from the sidelines was noticeable on every play. The defensive line is clearly deeper than a year ago, with the addition of three red-shirt frosh.
One of the more impressive players defensively is Cedric Holt, who played last season as a true freshman, particularly when injury forced Michael Waddell to the sidelines. Holt is hard to shake and is already the best tackler among the corners.
Clay Roberson made some good hits from his linebacker position, and appears more at ease than last year. Melik Brown did not appear out of position at this outside linebacker spot, and also held his own physically against upperclassmen on the offensive side of the ball.
Tommy Richardson and Rashaad Tindall also made plays during Saturday's scrimmage. Tindall intercepted a Matt Baker pass during the scrimmage, and seems to have fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered as a senior in high school.
Overall, it seemed there was little the defense could do against the first team offense, which appeared to be able to move the ball at will. The second and third team offensive units were not as effective, and the defense forced several turnovers against those units. A lot of the defensive problems came from what appears to be, compared to last spring, a much more effective UNC running game.