Bunting: ‘We've become tougher'

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Another chapter towards reconstructing the UNC football program wrapped up Wednesday as Spring Practice 2004 ended with a full contact scrimmage at Kenan Stadium.

It was somewhat of an extension of Saturday's Spring Game, with the resurgent Tar Heels' rushing attack flexing its collective muscle, led by an impressive showing by sophomore man-child Ronnie McGill. With no holds barred, except for red ‘no hit' jerseys worn by the quarterbacks, McGill broke off an impressive 70-plus yard scamper for a TD.

In addition defensively, UNC coach John Bunting has implemented some new wrinkles since the Spring Game.

"We've done a few new things in the past couple of days," he said. "We put in a '30 package,' which is taking a lineman out and adding a linebacker and we've had some fun with that."

Bunting, who has now had a chance to breakdown Saturday's action along with his coaches, provided an extensive wrap up of spring drills.

"It was pretty much the way I thought it was," Bunting said. "Our runners ran well and our corners tackled well, and I was pleased with some aspects of the offensive line.

"It was the first test of Fred Sparkman and Larry Edwards and those guys playing together, and I think they passed it. I have high hopes for them and the rest of that linebacking crew.

"Khalif Mitchell did some things that I haven't seen here since Julius Peppers was here. And, of course, we'll be anxious to see him play like that all of the time."

"I've been surprised by the way Kareen Taylor has played; this guy was all over the field today. He was out there with the first and second group; he's everywhere."

Bunting also said he was impressed with the improvement of freshman cornerback Quinton Person, and continued to sing the praises of walk-on tailback Justin Warren.

But the goal coming into the spring was to increase the overall toughness of the team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. And according to the Tar Heels' fourth-year head coach, those goals were achieved.

"We've become tougher," Bunting said. "I think we're running the ball more effectively. I think we're a little bit older and more mature. That was primary for me. I know that we're a better tackling team in the secondary than we've been than at least since 2001."

UNC record-setting quarterback Darian Durant entered his senior spring session with little to prove, and gave up a lot of snaps in the hopes of developing his backups at the position. After all, everyone knows what Durant can do, but there is a dogfight for the second-string signal caller position that will likely continue into the fall.

"We knew that Matt [Baker] did not have his best game [on Saturday]," Bunting said. "He didn't play as well as he would have liked to play and Darian [Durant] played sparingly. Roger [Heinz] did some good things, but the star of the game was Jared Hall. He's a great kid, and before you know it, he'll be in there competing for that job."

The talent at receiver is immensely promising, but as assistant coach Gunter Brewer said, striking a balance between the group's overall athleticism and its relative inexperience has and continues to present a challenge.

"We've got a little depth, but we've still got a lot of youth," Brewer said. "Jarwarski Pollock and Derrele Mitchell are the only two that have had any significant amount of snaps. Mike [Mason], Jesse [Holley] and [Adarius] Bowman are still green, but they're getting riper. And, we hope that Wallace Wright and Chris Curry – they're a little older – so we're hoping we can go with that group and with the two freshmen coming in; we hope they can contribute.

At the tight end position, Kenny Browning appears to have taken a seemingly impossible situation woven newfound depth, as evidenced by impressive spring showings put in by Scott Brumett, Jocques Dumas, Justin Phillips and Jon Hamlett.

But despite the positive words from Bunting on his rebuilding project, questions surround several unexplained player issues in the UNC camp.

Freshman Terry Hunter was again at practice, but has yet to participate. He remains mired in a personal situation.

Although the official word on the dismissal of senior cornerback Chris Hawkins was not announced until Wednesday, an off-the-field incident with another player has been well known among insiders for weeks, according to sources close to the team. Bunting wished Hawkins well, but stopped short of providing more details. In 12 games last season, Hawkins made 30 tackles and tied for the team lead with eight pass breakups.

Chad Scott, who has looked outstanding running the ball recently, returned to practice following an academic issue that kept him out of the Spring Game.

And, sophomore Jesse Holley was in attendance, but did not dress out for Wednesday's practice either.


Senior writer Andy Britt is in his second year with Inside Carolina. His work has appeared in newspapers across the country such as The Raleigh News & Observer, The Chapel Hill News, The State (Columbia, S.C.), The Seattle Times, The Houston Chronicle and The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. He can be reached at a.j.britt@mindspring.com.

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