Two More Starters Return

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina head coach Everett Withers spoke with reporters prior to Thursday's practice, providing injury updates and touching on linebackers Darius Lipford and Travis Hughes, as well as Clemson's spread offense.

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* Center Cam Holland and strong safety Jonathan Smith both practiced this week and are expected to play on Saturday, according to Withers. That's a critical development for a North Carolina squad that could use an injection of senior leadership and experience.

Holland, a senior hailing from Pittsburgh, Pa., sat out the past two games due to back soreness. The 6-foot-2, 320-pounder was named a team captain for the offensive side of the ball prior to the start of the season. Red-shirt freshman Russell Bodine has started the last two games in his place.

Holland's 25 career starts is tied with linebacker Kevin Reddick for third-most on the team.

Smith, a fifth-year senior out of Durham, N.C., has missed three games this season due to a lingering ankle injury.

* Senior linebacker Ebele Okakpu's dismissal earlier this week opened up competition for his starting strongside linebacker position, but sophomore Darius Lipford has secured the job over freshman Travis Hughes this week during practice.

"I think Darius is the guy," Withers said. "He's played well for us when he's played, so we're looking forward to him being out there. And in the future, if Travis competes with him, then Travis will have that opportunity."

Withers provided some insight into both players during his radio show on Wednesday night.

"Darius and Travis are both young guys still learning the game, but very competitive," Withers said. "I always talk about guys that just have a sense of how to play the game. Those guys know about football. They understand keys, they understand reads. It doesn't take them a lot of reps. They can line up and play."

* North Carolina's lone fullback – senior Curtis Byrd – will be sidelined on Saturday due to a sprained knee. Withers indicated that senior H-back Christian Wilson has practiced at fullback in certain personnel packages.

* Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris learned his read-option spread offense from Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn while both men were still coaching high school football. The 42-year-old play-caller ‘s up-tempo approach is intent on running 80-85 plays per game, which limits a defense's ability to change strategy within specific series.

Withers has encountered numerous read-option offenses during his 24 years of coaching, but he told reporters on Thursday that Morris's scheme is different in one aspect.

"The multiple formations, the multiple motions that they give you out of it – that's probably the biggest thing," Withers said. "They spread you from sideline to sideline with it and they're able to get two, sometimes three guys in the backfield. So it's a little bit different than some [and] probably more motion and shifts than most that we see."

* North Carolina announced on Thursday that senior place kicker Casey Barth would seek a medical hardship waiver for the 2011 season after a groin injury has sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Barth first tweaked the muscle in training camp and then partially tore the muscle during the Virginia game on Sept. 17. A hematoma, a collection of blood outside of a blood vessel, formed at the injury location and expanded the muscle.

"That's the kind of thing we don't really know about," Barth said. "There's still something in there and they've just got to work it out. I tried kicking and it got sore again to where it was."

Aside from minor soreness, Barth said he only feels pain while kicking. He plans to continue with his current rehab process in order to return to full strength before spring practice.

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