Football Returns to Action

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--The North Carolina football team shook off the rust Monday afternoon after a 13-day hiatus to take part in its ninth practice of the spring season.

"There is always going to be some rust after [more than] a week off, particularly for Spring Break," head coach John Bunting said. "These kids went out and had a good time."

The enthusiasm and the focus were there, despite the lay-off. The kids were picking up things in the two-minute drills, and there was a very physical team run period.

"I was disappointed in the blitz period," Bunting said. "I think our quarterback played well, but I don't think the other people executed very well."

Since many of the defensive players already have experience and many of the players on offense do not have as much, the defense was ahead of the offense on this day.

"We are much farther along with our scheme on defense right now than we were last year at this time, by far," Bunting said, "1,000 years ahead--so that's good. Defensively, we are much further ahead."

"I thought we had great energy and it was a good practice," defensive tackle Chase Page said. "I thought offense was [crappy]. We smashed 'em all day. The defense practiced well, but I think that's always kind of how it is because the offense has to get back in the groove. Everything they do is about timing. We put in some new stuff today on defense that gave them some trouble.

"We were really aggressive. The linebackers had an awesome practice today. I thought the D-line played well. But we have good days sometimes, and they have bad days sometimes. When they happen on the same day, [that's what happens.]

"Chase Rice had a really good practice, Kentwan made some plays, Khalif was doing double duty [with the 2's and the 3's], so he was pretty tired, but he did a pretty good job. I'm proud of those young guys. They are stepping up and we can count on them next year."

Offensively, the team is still learning how to play together with a new center, and the center/quarterback exchange has been a point of concern. That is still happening, but Steven Bell is back in the rotation, and his experience is helping to alleviate the problem.

"The center/quarterback exchange was going well for the 1's, but the 2's had some problems," Page said. "Ben [Lemming] has to get used to snapping it and then getting his hands up really quick. Right now, he's too worried about his hands and not the snap, so he's trying to make the block without [completing] his first job first, but he'll get it. He's a tough kid, a tough blocker, and he likes to mix it up."

With Kyle Ralph, Calvin Darrity, and Skip Seagraves out with injury, in addition to the loss of Willie McNeil and Jason Brown to graduation, there are even more holes to fill on the offensive line at this time.

"There are a lot of opportunities for a lot of young offensive linemen right now and they have to pick it up," Bunting said. "If they want to be part of this program and be part of this team next year, they have got to really get going. If they don't, these young freshmen coming in will blow right by them. They've got great opportunities and are getting a lot of reps and I hope they are taking advantage of it. That's the message I gave to them last night as they came back to campus."

With so many "replacement parts," it could be a while before the offense catches up with the defense, but the pieces are there.

"If we ever get Barrington [Edwards] to learn what the heck to do, he's going to be a good football player," Bunting said. "Right now, he doesn't know what to do. When he does, you can see he has a tremendous amount of ability. We've got to get him ready. We've got a lot of work to do with him--all of us as coaches--and he has got to pay the price. He has to work hard at it."

But in spite of the troubles on offense on the day, Matt Baker, Roger Heinz and Jon Hamlett received praise from their head coach for their performances.

"We need our young players and we need our experience players to take it to another level when it comes to practicing things as perfect as possible--taking care of all those details. Attention to and the perfection of details is what we are looking for this next half of spring ball."

Spring Game in Doubt

On top of losses due to graduation, the personnel losses on the current team could put the Spring Game in jeopardy.

"I'm hoping that we are even going to be able to have a Spring Game," Bunting said. "I don't even know right now at this time."

Linebacker Fred Sparkman, defensive tackle Isaiah Thomas, and wide receiver Adarius Bowman were all suspended from the team indefinitely due to marijuana charges following the NC State game. Sparkman transferred after the semester, and Thomas and Bowman will not be allowed to return to the team.

Terry Hunter is currently suspended from the team indefinitely following a charge of possession of marijuana and driving with a revoked licsence.

In addition, following is a list of players who are currently not allowed to take part in full contact: Calvin Darrity (out for spring), Skip Seagraves(out for spring, boot removed Monday), Kyle Ralph, Joe Kedra, Tommy Davis (out for spring, boot removed Monday).

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