LBs: A work in progress

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – John Bunting has joined assistant coach John Gutekunst in working with the linebackers during training camp. Both, along with the players themselves, attest there is still a long way to go before they'll be as competitive as the Tar Heels' schedule will demand.

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    It took only a few plays of Carolina's 37-0 opening night loss to Florida State last season to realize the Tar Heels were playing with linebackers that weren't up to speed – literally.

    Enter Gutekunst in 2004, who along with Bunting and co-defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders swapped experience and intricacy, with athleticism and simplicity. That meant some members of the old guard, who perhaps thought they had earned their playing time for years to come, had to accept that underclassmen Larry Edwards and Fred Sparkman were the future.

    And this year, the UNC coaches have also looked to the defensive backfield to further staff positions – both voluntarily and out of necessity.

    "If you're being outworked and outplayed, then you've just got to respect that other person," junior Tommy Richardson said. "There are really no positions given out here."

    But it will continue to take time for this unit to grow up and make the most of its potential.

    "They've got a long way to go," Gutekunst said.

    Gutekunst said that junior Jeff Longhany has lost some weight and really played well during Saturday's scrimmage. He also said that sophomore Fred Sparkman performed well until late in the practice during goal line repetitions.

    "It was a hot day and I think they were a little bit tired," he said. "But great teams don't do that. And that's not physical, that's just maturity and growing up."

    Larry Edwards, who stormed on the scene last year only to arrive in training camp overweight and fighting for his job, is beginning to get his competitive edge back.

    "Freshmen want to play, sophomores want to start, juniors want to win and seniors want to go to the pros," Gutekunst said. "So Larry got his chance to play as a freshman and now he wants to start. Like I tell them all, if that's your goal, then you've missed the entire point of playing football. You should want to play well. That will lead to starting and eventually lead to winning."

    Two who expect to figure prominently this season played safety last year. Richardson moved over during the spring and quickly moved to the top of the depth chart. Junior Mahlon Carey, who moved from defense to offense and back to defense, replaced freshman Hilee Taylor who moved to defensive end last week.

    "It's an adjustment, but I'm used to moving around for the betterment of the team," Carey said.

    Carey, who recorded the Tar Heels' only two interceptions in '04, picked off a pass in the scrimmage. That is the kind of instinct Bunting said he wants to see, but the question is can Carey readjust himself again to another position and contribute?

    "He's a quick reactor down low; and maybe up high, he wasn't as quick," Bunting said of Carey. "I like what I see so far, but we have a long way to go with him."

    While the move came as another surprise to Carey, Richardson seems to have moved into the position he is now best suited for. He said the coaches have been telling him since he was a freshman that he might ultimately wind up at linebacker.

    "I believe it was a good move to help the team right away," said Richardson, who has added over 25 pounds since last year. "I believe it's something I can pursue in future endeavors. Now that I'm pretty much in the typical mode of a speedy linebacker in the NFL, then I take this as a good opportunity for me to make some plays."

  • The UNC coaches held a personnel meeting Sunday night to discuss which of the true freshman might be red-shirted and who would not. However on Monday morning, Bunting did not provide many details of those conversations. He did say they have begun putting their first cut together for the traveling squad. Carolina's first road game is Sept. 11 versus 19th-ranked Virginia in Charlottesville.

    "We have some decisions that are still in the middle of becoming absolute, as far as what we're going to do in the way of red-shirting, who are going to be on scout teams and who can be on the field with the defense or offense and still gain knowledge of their position. We're identifying those areas and prospects that can help us not only this year, but next year as well," Bunting said.

  • Classes begin on Tuesday,marking the first time during Bunting's tenure in Chapel Hill that the start of school didn't fall during Game Week preparations. Bunting stressed its importance: "It's tougher when you have a game to play this week," he said. "We want to get off to a good start in school, and that's hard, particularly for the newcomers."

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