Thursday scrimmage report

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Thursday evening at Kenan Stadium, North Carolina held its first preseason scrimmage since the 2003 Spring Game. The UNC coaches drilled all of their units at full speed, but with limited tackling. At the same time, the mammoth new Jumbotron was running movies of Tar Heel legends such as Kelvin Bryant, Don McCauley and Amos Lawrence.

The practice was complete with pre-game warm-ups before the players and coaches returned to the locker room in a simulated game situation. Finally, after about a half-hour deluge of rain which resembled the quagmire that nearly flooded Kenan during the 2002 opener versus Miami (Ohio), the Heels took the field for a practice game complete with professional referees.

"When you go one-versus-one, you are obviously going to see who is performing best at what we perceive to be the best competition," UNC coach John Bunting said. "We have put the first up against the seconds, we have moved some thirds up to seconds and turned some seconds into ones."

After some skeleton drills with the quarterbacks and wide receivers going up against the linebackers and defensive backs, the linemen then joined the fray for a full contact scrimmage.

  • Receivers and defensive backs were rotated in without much regard to first and second-string units, but the offensive line, backfield and defensive front seven appeared to be working in with what would be the current depth chart.

    Tailbacks' Ronnie McGill (cramps) and Jacque Lewis (thigh sprain) did not participate. Fullback James Gibson injured his shoulder and spent most of practice on the sideline with his arm in a sling. According to trainer Dan Hooker, none of the injuries are serious.

    First team offense: QB Darian Durant, TB Willie Parker, FB Rikki Cook, TE Bobby Blizzard, LT Willie McNeil, LG Kyle Ralph, C Jason Brown, RG Jeb Terry, RT Skip Seagraves.

    Second team offense: QB C.J. Stephens, TB Chad Scott, FB James Gibson, TE John Dunn, LT Drew Hunter, LG Jupiter Wilson, C Steven Bell, RG Chris Woods, RT Brian Chacos.

    Third team offense: QB Matt Baker, TE Jon Hamlett, RT Patrick Hope, RG David Mirazo, C Scott Lenahan, LT Charlston Gray, RT Bryan Shipman.

    First team defense: DE Jocques Dumas, DT Jonas Seawright, DT Chase Page, DE Tommy Davis, SAM Melik Brown, MIKE Doug Justice, WILL Clay Roberson.

    Second team defense: DE Madison Hedgecock, DT Jermicus Banks, DT Isaac Mooring, DE Kendall High, LB Devllen Bullard, LB Jeff Longhany, LB Clarence Gaddy.

    Third team defense: DE Alden Blizzard, DT Shelton Bynum, DT Isaiah Thomas, DE Brian Rackley, LB Joe Kedra, LB Larry Edwards, LB Victor Worsley.

    High appears to have been promoted to second team defense and Worsley has been working there as well, while Rackley and A. Blizzard have slipped back to the third team for now.

    "Right now, we're stirring the pot a bunch," Bunting said. "We're moving some guys around quite a bit, which I believe we have the opportunity to do this week. By the beginning of next week, we're going to try to get some things narrowed down more – which are the ones, who are the twos and who are the main backups. We're not juggling a whole lot of people right now, but we're juggling enough people to try and give them an opportunity."

  • On Tuesday, UNC wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer stated that each of his highly regarded freshmen wide receivers would likely see substantial action this year. Early in practice it became obvious that Adarius Bowman and Mike Mason would have an impact, but on Thursday, Jesse Holley proved he is as talented and athletic as any of the three.

    Holley caught several difficult balls in practice and was in with the first unit frequently, as was Bowman, Mason, and upperclassmen Derrele Mitchell, Jawarski Pollock, Brandon Russell, Chris Curry, Wallace Wright and Danny Rumley.

    Rumley caught numerous balls in practice and so did Scott out of the backfield.

    Mason and Bowman both looked sharp returning kickoffs as well. However, Bowman looked extra special in that role, returning one kickoff practically untouched.

  • Durant did not look particularly good early, but came on later to deliver some fine passes. Roger Heinz was the designated utility quarterback, handing off on running drills and holding for the field goal unit. Heinz being in on special teams could mean he and fellow freshman Nick Cangelosi may not both redshirt as has been the consensus opinion.

  • Speaking of special teams, place kickers Dan Orner and Topher Roberts each nailed 50-plus yard field goals against live competition. Orner hit a 50-yarder while Roberts nailed one from 58 yards away.

    Punters John Lafferty and David Wooldridge each punted for about 40 yards.

  • Except for M. Brown, who appears to be holding on to his starting spot on defense, all the other freshmen linebackers are getting a lot of looks on special teams. Edwards and Kory Gedin lined up with the punting unit, while Kedra was in with the punt return team. Green, Bryan Bethea and walk-on Tyson Graham were also in on punt returns.

    Green, Edwards and Fred Sparkman saw action on the kickoff team, while Kedra, along with Bowman and Mason were on the kickoff return team.

    Kedra and Edwards seem to be developing quicker than Gedin and Sparkman.

    "I don't expect a lot of [true freshmen] to start at linebacker; it's just too hard of a position," Bunting said. "I don't expect too many freshmen quarterbacks to come in and start, but some could. We've worked a lot of linebackers in with the third and the second groups. We've also worked them into nickel situations. I am expecting our freshmen linebackers to play a big role on special teams, so we're force-feeding that.

    Bunting said his decision not to move the freshmen up too soon draws from his own experience as a collegiate and professional linebacker.

    "I've been around that position a long time and not too many rookies play," he said. "I started my first, second and third game as a rookie, and then [my coaches] saw they weren't doing a real smart thing, so the sat me on the bench for the rest of the year. I know from personal experience, it's very difficult going from high school to college. It's a big jump."

  • The tight end foursome of Blizzard, Dunn, Hamlett and Justin Phillips were all sensational. The depth at this position appears to be shaping up better than was previously expected.

  • Lionell Green, the junior college transfer who recently joined the team, is quickly getting into shape. He is practicing with the first team, along with freshman Kareen Taylor.

    "He's right there," Bunting said of Green. "[Friday] will be the first day that he has had double-days so he'll have two sessions. I watched him specifically running today, and he ran well. We were concerned about his conditioning when he first came in, but I think he's getting back. It's more about his legs than his breathing."

    In the dime package, Seawright comes out and Banks goes in at nose tackle, Dumas is replaced by Hedgecock and Page stays in at defensive end. Justice and Brown are the linebackers, Taylor and Reid are the safeties, with Green, Michael Waddell, Derrick Johnson and Cedrick Holt at cornerback.

  • Bunting on the freshmen: "I love what I see in the receivers, I love what I see in the linebackers and I love what I see in the safeties. Lionell is going to be a great corner. I expect him to be in the mix very soon. I love the Lenahans. I just like this whole bunch.

    "I respect this whole freshman class. They've got a lot of spunk. They're different from anything I've here so far. They have a lot of energy and confidence. They are going to help our football team some this year, and they are going to be part of a special class in a few years from now."

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