Spring Practice: LB rotation 'wide open'

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Despite the future depth the Tar Heels appeared to have at linebacker following their stellar 2003 recruiting class, the direction the position will take in '04 personnel-wise remains up in the air.

At this point, all positions are open. In fact, as of Monday, Gastonia walk-on freshman Tyson Graham was a starter following his impressive performance in Saturday's scrimmage.

That's the way it's going to be until UNC's new co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach John Gutekunst can find out who is willing to buy into his new system. Changes have to be made after all, as the status quo certainly wasn't getting it done.

"Obviously, there must be some deficiencies or I wouldn't be here," Gutekunst said.

But while competition is always a good thing, UNC coach and former linebacker John Bunting is more concerned about how far along perhaps his deepest unit is at this stage.

"We're scrambling to find out who can be our fourth and fifth linebackers right now," Bunting said. "It's a heat; nobody's really standing out. I don't feel like we're physical, and I don't feel like we're nimble or athletic enough at that position."

Bunting said he feels good about the progress of sophomores Larry Edwards and Fred Sparkman, but beyond that he's not sure who will step in and be productive.

"Everybody is getting a chance," Bunting said.

That seems surprising, considering the raw talent mixed with the experience the Carolina linebacking corps appeared to possess coming into spring practice. If there were to be any concerns, certainly it wasn't going to be at linebacker.

Even running back Ronnie McGill has been in awe by the defense's second line of attack.

‘It seems like everybody has picked up a step and looks more ready to play," he said.

However, neither Bunting nor Gutekunst seems nearly as impressed.

"We're posting a new depth chart every day," Bunting said. "I remember how important that used to be to me when I was playing ball here. They're also posting any plus-effort and any minus-effort. Right now, we're about developing more defensive effort. So if anybody has a ‘loaf,' that's going to be ‘notated;' that's public."

Even Edwards, who started the final eight games of the season last year and finished third on the team with 89 tackles, is not assured a starting position this fall.

The competition is out there, and that is something that Edwards is happy to be a part of.

"We feel like we're working hard and practicing hard," Edwards said. "We're going to try to dominate the game, be more aggressive up front and make more plays. That's our defensive strategy – just being more aggressive and playing smarter.

"Coach G is trying to simplify the game and he lets us play. He tries to maximize our talents where we don't have to think too much. Last year we had a lot of complicated defenses and a lot of things to learn on our plate."

But while making things easier to understand may be of the players' liking on the surface, Gutekunst brings a much more cerebral approach to the game.

Perhaps that's not evident yet to the younger linebackers.

"We are very physical, and that's a good place to start," Gutekunst said. "We've got to be tough. Speed kills, but the fundamentals of football don't change. There are principles of physics and lines of force.

"Then after respecting the principles of the game, it's about respecting your opponent," he said. "They're just like you. They're working hard and lifting weights. It just all comes down to the little things. That's our expectations, and I find that kids will rise to your expectations if they're not confused and can play aggressively."


  • Bunting's overall focus on Monday
    "So far, I'm kind of trying to focus on some individuals who have made some moves to the other side, like [Madison] Hedgecock (fullback), [Jocques] Dumas (tight end) and [Kareen] Taylor (cornerback) and D.J. Walker (safety). I'm more focussed on those guys right now and I'm pleased with what I'm seeing. Dumas may have found a home. He's still young and it's still early in camp, but he is blocking and getting those long arms on people.

    "I'm high on [Gerald] Sensabaugh, [Scott] Brummett and Khalif Mitchell is going to be a fine player at some point. He still has a lot of technique stuff to learn.

    "All in all, I'm pleased with where our running game and our offensive line can get to. I was pleased with Baker in the scrimmage on Saturday – he threw some strikes out there.

    "Defensively, I think the secondary is going to be OK. We should be better than we were last year by a long shot.

    "I wish we had one more running back. Jacque [Lewis] hardly played at all on Saturday; he was injured last week. Where that tight end situation will go, I don't know. All I know is Kenny Browning is coaching his ass off and those kids are playing hard. It's the second day in a row where we've had the pads on and we've had the one-on-ones and their winning those battles.

  • On Jesse Holley's return to practice and Terry Hunter's situation
    "Jesse will be out to practice on Wednesday," Bunting said. "He was out there for a short period of time today in shorts. He's been in meetings and he'll be in pads on Thursday. We're hopeful that he will be able to participate in the scrimmage on Saturday.

    "It's a private matter," he said when asked about Hunter's status. "We're hopeful that he's out with us at some point. Right now it's a private situation. I met with him again today. I feel good about our direction."

  • Joe Kedra on Nick Cangelosi
    "He was someone to relate to since we played high school ball together," Kedra said. "I was real disappointed to see him leave and I tried to talk him out of it. There are things you can say to a person, but once he had his mind made up I don't think there was any turning back for him. It was a decision that he made and there was nothing that I could say that would change his mind. It's going to be rough."

    Brian Chacos is recovering from minor knee surgery and is not at practice. Kyndraus Guy is in greens and has been limited to non-contact drills due to shoulder surgery. Cedrick Holt, who broke his ankle last year, was still in greens, but is expected back to full contact this weekend.

  • Inside Carolina Top Stories