Spring Practice: Picking Up Speed

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – If you've played organized football, you probably know what a "front-up" is. The North Carolina defense had to perform about a dozen after allowing the offense penetration via land and air during scrimmages on Wednesday at Kenan Stadium.

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After Practice Q&A with John Bunting
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It's not clear who gave the initial order or if the drill was a form of punishment. But front-ups – a rudimentary and rigorous sequence consisting of running in place, dropping face first on the ground on demand, and then getting up and doing it all over again until the coach calls it off – is rarely ever administered as a form of praise.

You don't walk away from a front-up with head held high.

In the practices earliest stages, the line of scrimmage belonged to the offense with Ronnie McGill leading the way.

"Ronnie [McGill] ran the ball pretty well today on our defense, which was good to see," coach John Bunting said. "I don't like to see that with our defense, but it's good to see us run the ball up in there."

But Richie Rich and R.J. Waters saw most of the carries, getting nice yards after contact and by dancing in and out of holes. The offensive line was getting downfield in what was nearly full contact, except contact was to stop before the tackling of a ball carrier. And of course, quarterbacks had a halo of protection from hits.

Waters received vocal praise on several occasions before leaving practice early with an injury. He was seen on the sidelines, pads off, with trainers working on his shoulder.

Justin Warren is out due to a concussion suffered in a previous practice.

A trio of offensive lineman once thought lost to career-ending injuries, are all practicing at full speed. Bryon Bishop moved gingerly at times, but he received a big group hug from his fellow offensive lineman following one particularly good block. And there have been no visible problems in the return of Calvin Darity and Scott Lenahan.

Ben Lemming and Brian Chacos, although not practicing, are both actively participating in the drills and using every opportunity to work with the younger players.

One of the offense's best rushes came via an end around by Brandon Tate, who completely fooled the defense and picked up huge yards. As the teams broke to work on kickoffs, the UNC defense did their front-ups and regrouped.

Jesse Holley was dazzling as always. Kenton Thornton didn't practice.

Meanwhile, the kickoff coverage team was nearly perfect until Barrington Edwards took one all the way back after taking a hard helmet-to-helmet hit right after he caught the ball. Waters was injured on the play.

As practice resumed at the scrimmage line, the defense took over. Quarterbacks Joe Dailey and Cam Sexton overthrew a couple on deep routes, while Quinton Person hounded would-be receivers all afternoon. Person's man may make a catch or two, but he rarely gains any yards after the catch after feeling the sting of vicious hit.

A few sequences later, Hilee Taylor got free up the middle, unabated to Sexton for a sack, pulling up before contact. On the next play, Cam Thomas picked up the equivalent of a coverage sack.

"I was afraid we might get the quarterback killed, but we didn't," Bunting said.

Thomas, the mountainous nose guard that may challenge for a starting role, wreaks mayhem in the middle and stuffed Rich on a tackle for loss.

Later, Sexton found Tate on a nice medium depth hookup. Dailey was also connected with tight end Rock Wells, as well as Brooks Foster and others. Then Sexton found Jon Hamlett across the middle for a big-gainer.

Richard Quinn also had a catch and run deep into the secondary.

Person was all over the field, picking off a Sexton pass to the sideline and taking it to all the way back to the open end of the Kenan horseshoe.

And it is becoming more and more clear Cooter Arnold is going to be hard to keep off the field next season. He's bigger and stronger, and appears to be a great fit at nickelback/safety.

"I'm very excited about what Cooter is doing," Bunting said. "I think he could play a lot of plays/snaps for us next year. He's a nickelback. He's a very instinctive player for us. I project he could be a starting safety for us down the road."

Wednesday Notes

  • Linebacker Larry Edwards will miss the rest of spring practice in order to focus on academics, Bunting said. "Myself and coach [Tommy] Thigpen have made a decision to have Larry focus on schoolwork the rest of the semester," UNC's head coach explained. "He won't be practicing. I know what Larry can do."

  • Kentwan Balmer, once expected to miss the entire spring while recovering from off-season knee surgery, is back in action now at defensive tackle and defensive end.

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