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* Withers told reporters over a month ago that the expected return date for cornerback Jabari Price after hand surgery would be the East Carolina game on Oct. 1. That projection has turned out to be on the money.
"We've cleared Jabari Price to play, so we expect that he will be on the field at some point in time," Withers told a group of roughly 10 reporters at Navy Fields.
Price told Inside Carolina on Wednesday that he felt "100 percent" and that he returned to full contact in practice on Sunday. But don't expect the sophomore to immediately step back into his starting role opposite Charles Brown.
"I'm really looking for Jabari just to go out and get his feet back under him in playing," Withers said. "For us to expect him to go out and be dynamic in his first ball game may be much, but I'm looking forward to him getting back on the field and maybe help us in some special teams."
* Starting punt returner and reserve cornerback Todd Harrelson was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules prior to the Virginia game on Sept. 17, but that suspension has been lifted and the red-shirt junior will be available to play against the Pirates.
Harrelson returned four punts for 38 yards in UNC's first two games of the season.
* Another player cleared to fully participate against East Carolina is starting weakside linebacker Zach Brown, who was disciplined against Georgia Tech for internal matters. In an odd move, the red-shirt senior did not play any at linebacker but started on special teams.
Brown is second on the team in tackles (25) and tackles for loss (4.0) and is tied for the team lead in sacks (2.5).
* Place kicker Casey Barth will miss his second straight game as he recovers from a groin strain.
"We'll hold Casey for another week just to give him a chance to continue to rehab," Withers said.
* Starting strong safety Jonathan Smith is listed as doubtful after spraining his ankle in the loss at Georgia Tech. Withers said "there's a good chance" that UNC will have to play without Smith's services.
When combining the returns of Price and Harrelson with Smith's potential absence, an easy conclusion to reach is that cornerback Tre Boston could return to his safety position after making the switch in the hours following Price's injury in training camp.
But when asked about Boston possibly switching positions, Withers responded, "Right now we'll stay as is."
Junior safety Gene Robinson is expected to get the start in Smith's place.
* Junior wide receiver Erik Highsmith will return to the starting lineup after sitting out last Saturday's loss due to an ankle injury suffered against Virginia.
Withers indicated that Highsmith "has had a couple of really good days of practice" this week. The Vanceboro, N.C. native ran with the first unit during the media portion of practice on Thursday.
"Erik's a big part of our offense in what he's been able to do since he's been here, so I think it will be a positive influence for Bryn," Withers said.
* Senior linebacker Ebele Okakpu is questionable after tweaking his ankle against Georgia Tech.
* The Tar Heel defense spent the first 30 minutes of Thursday's practice working on its nickel sets, a defensive scheme that features five defensive backs. East Carolina's spread offense is heavy on passing plays, meaning that nickel back Tim Scott will see significant action on Saturday night.
The first-team nickel package consisted of defensive ends Quinton Coples and Kareem Martin, defensive tackles Tydreke Powell and Sylvester Williams, linebackers Kevin Reddick and Zach Brown, cornerbacks Charles Brown and Tre Boston, safeties Matt Merletti and Gene Robinson and Scott as the nickel.
The second team was made up of defensive ends Donte Paige-Moss and Tim Jackson, defensive tackles Jordan Nix and Ethan Farmer, linebackers Fabby Desir and Travis Hughes, cornerbacks Alex Dixon and Price, safeties Brian Gupton and Pete Mangum and Scott once again at nickel.
* UNC pumped in crowd noise for the second-straight week to simulate the raucous environment the Tar Heels will encounter in Greenville. The music played was pulled from the alternative rock category, highlighted by the Foo Fighters.
Withers doesn't see the increased decibel level as a big concern and noted that his team performed well under similar conditions in Atlanta.
"I thought we were fine," Withers said. "I didn't feel like that was a factor last week. If I'm a kid and I'm playing in this game, just the opportunity to play in a game against a loud crowd, that ought to be fun to you."
Withers did get in one quip aimed at the Pirates when a reporter told him that the Pirates' offense practiced with crowd noise on Wednesday night, replying, "Yeah, well, I don't know, maybe their fans aren't schooled up on being quiet."