Jones Elevating His Game

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. –- North Carolina head coach Butch Davis spoke to reporters prior to Wednesday afternoon's practice, touching on senior wide receiver Dwight Jones's development, new leaders that are stepping up and newcomer Sylvester Williams.

Inside Carolina audio is available to IC premium subscribers. To listen, you'll need an updated version of Windows Media Player - click here to download the software.

* Before team leaders can make their presence felt on game days in the fall, they must first build that trust during offseason workouts and spring practice. With 17 seniors from the '10 squad removed from the equation, a new group of players are working to fill that void.

Davis pointed to senior defensive tackle Tydreke Powell as a player who served a leadership role last season, but the fourth-year head coach highlighted senior lineman Quinton Coples as someone who has put in extra work since the Music City Bowl victory over Tennessee.

"Last year he was thrust into a role that he probably never had dreamed that he'd have to play, going from defensive end back in to defensive tackle," Davis said. "He's clearly more at home going back outside and playing defensive end. You can see him really trying to establish himself."

Other players that have emerged as leaders are linebackers Kevin Reddick and Zach Brown and offensive linemen Jonathan Cooper, James Hurst and Cam Holland.

Within the skill position groups, one senior has decided to lead by example instead of with his words. Plenty of people thought Dwight Jones would bolt for the NFL after his breakout junior campaign, but the Burlington, N.C. native decided to return for his final season of eligibility.

But don't think he's feeling fat and happy after developing into one of the ACC's top wide receivers last fall.

"Dwight Jones has just been a remarkable, pleasant story," Davis said. "Everybody wondered last year, ‘Okay, who's going to emerge as a receiver?' And his play warranted respect, but his offseason work ethic in our mat drills and our conditioning and the way he's practicing – he is practicing like a man on a mission.

"I think people respect that. They see him. And he's not just resting on the fact that he led the team in receiving and letting that speak for itself. He's the first guy in lines, he's the first guy doing drills and that's always a good sign."

* Red-shirt freshmen Gio Bernard (running back) and Brendon Felder (cornerback) are both recovering from ACL injuries and are going through non-contact drills this spring. Davis acknowledged on Wednesday that the training staff is intentionally being slow in bringing along the two skill position players. If the current month was August instead of March, the duo would likely be participating in contact drills.

"They could, but it would be remarkably foolish on our part when you know that in a matter of two-and-a-half weeks, they're going to get another four-and-a-half or five months of rehab, training, strength and conditioning and [building] confidence," Davis said. "When we get to training camp, there's plenty of time for them…

"If we had any doubts about whether or not they could play with contact and that kind of stuff, then we would have never recruited them. So we're just trying to take the wise approach and make sure that they get to August."

* Quarterback Marquise Williams, wide receiver T.J. Thorpe, offensive lineman Landon Turner and running back Travis Riley could all be preparing for their senior prom in the coming weeks, but instead they elected to enroll at North Carolina in January and get a head start on their collegiate careers.

So far, so good.

"We're pleased with all of them," Davis said. "I wish we could get 10 guys every year to come in at midterm because they have the luxury of learning at a slower pace with no pressure of having to play games on Saturday, which I think is an enormous benefit to every kid on our football team."

The fifth member of the early enrollee list arrived from the junior college ranks, and as expected, he has made the largest impact of the group – both literally and figuratively.

"Sylvester Williams at defensive tackle has probably been one of the biggest, pleasant surprises just because he's so much older and more mature," Davis said of the 320-pound junior lineman. "He comes in and he looks like he's been playing college football for two years and you can tell. He's physical, his work ethic is outstanding and his effort level is really good."

* With Da'Norris Searcy and Kendric Burney no longer available to return kicks this fall, the coaching staff has placed an emphasis on discovering adequate replacements. Davis highlighted Reggie Wilkins, Sean Tapley and Charles Brown as possibilities, while the media watched Mywan Jackson, Thorpe and Felder field punts from both the jugs machine and C.J. Feagles. Working the kickoff return angle was Jheranie Boyd, Hunter Furr, Tre Boston, Erik Highsmith, Wilkins and Bernard.

"It's an area that we're looking at," Davis said. "We're filming it every day. We're putting guys in some situations where we kind of get an idea as to who has really good hands, who makes good smart wise decisions and then who's got the talent to do it.h I think we'll have some good talented kids, but we've got to develop some trust in them to know that they're going to go back there and they're going to be able to do it well."

* UNC prepped for Saturday's scrimmage session by scheduling 15-18 full live action plays at the end of Wednesday's practice. Davis anticipated every player on the team being able to work in 6-8 scrimmage plays.

Inside Carolina Top Stories