QB: New Beginnings

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- The 2006 slate has been wiped clean. North Carolina coaches aren't overly concerned with what transpired in the Tar Heels' pocket last season. A battle-tested sophomore gets a new look as the undisputed starter – for now. Meanwhile, young, up and coming talent is eager to take advantage of opportunities while peaking competition.

IC's Spring Analysis
  • LB: Looking For Leaders
  • What's done is done. The platoon system of Joe Dailey and Cameron Sexton yielded a whopping 18 interceptions, while combining for just 11 touchdown passes. The offense was stagnant throughout most of the season, and with little help from the defense. It all added up to a miserable minus-11 turnover margin that hamstrung most attempts at victory and resulted in a 3-9 finish.

    Dailey has moved to wide receiver and early on appears to have taken a liking to the position. His athleticism and mental acumen have impressed the new coaching regime; and again, it's mulligans all around just two weeks into spring practice under new coach Butch Davis. Dailey completed 57.4 percent of his passes last year for 1,316 yards and seven touchdowns, but threw 10 passes to opponents – and unbelievably costly ones at that.

    Sexton (6-1, 190, So.) is the No. 1 quarterback right now. The coaches say he's showing improvement almost on a daily basis. However, Sexton must rebound mentally from a disappointing freshman output, which accounted for eight picks against just four touchdowns.

    Of course an incredible amount of weight was thrown on Sexton's shoulders when Dailey proved an unreliable passer. Coming off a redshirt season in which he broke his ankle in a spring scrimmage, Sexton struggled.

    "A little bit of a rescue for Cam is when there is a new coaching staff, and some of the scars tend to disappear," Davis said. "With the new offense and the fresh start, you're certainly starting to see some of his athleticism. Clearly at this stage, he's a little bit more poised than the other three guys at this stage."

    Quarterbacks coach John Shoop (pictured, right) added, "Cam's gotten better every practice, from the first day to now. That's exciting to me. He's becoming a better decision maker, and that's the most important thing. He's valuing the football and holding it in high regard.

    "We need him to keep working and make fantastic plays when they're there; and when they're not there, then cutting your losses and checking it down. I think he's doing a good job of that," Shoop said.

    But where will the Tar Heels look for bona fide arm strength? The characteristic is not mandatory in a quarterback, but it helps. It helps a lot.

    Neither Sexton nor Dailey exhibited that by and large innate characteristic. In other words, it wouldn't seem impossible that a passer with average to below average down field capabilities would ever blossom into a Michael Vick. Yet, smarts, mobility and speed, in that order, can sometimes be enough – see Steve Young.

    The Tar Heels have three other quarterbacks in house and one of the program's most promising talents on the way. T.J. Yates (6-3, 205, Fr.), B.J. Phillips (6-5, 245, Fr.) and walk-on Ben Johnson (6-1, 190, Jr.) are all getting fair shakes to impress, and Mike Paulus (6-5, 220, Fr.) will join the fray this summer.

    "We're still in the mode for these first two weeks that we've split the repetitions almost thirty percent per guy," Davis said. "We're giving the three (scholarship) guys the lion's share of the work, but we haven't discounted any of the four guys."

    Butch and Co. are definitely throwing a bunch of stuff at the players. At times, it must seem insurmountable. Put it this way, there are only rare instances of working on something a second day. That's a luxury the staff has conceded in the effort, as Davis says, "to impart a year's worth of football knowledge on the team in 15 practices."

    "Most of my improvement has been in my mechanics," Yates said. "When I was redshirted, I didn't really do much. Coach Shoop has been working a lot with me on my footwork. It's really coming along nicely. I'm really coming along with learning the offense. Last year I didn't get much chance to learn the offense. He's making the transition to the new offense real easy.

    "I've been able to pick up a lot more of the offense of the college game as opposed to high school," Phillips said . "It's a lot different, and the speed of the game is a lot different. The level of information and the speed of the college game is just so much different."

    Both Yates and Phillips feel they have been blessed with the opportunity at equal reps so far this spring. There will be a coaching evaluation period as the players have this weekend off. When the teams return to practice on Monday, those reps might get pared down based on Shoop's diagnosis.

    "T.J. is just really raw," Shoop said. "He hasn't played much football. But he's showing he's got a natural feel in the pocket. He can slide around a little bit. He just needs to keep working on his decision making process and throwing the ball accurately. The more times that we can put him in crazy positions, the better we're going to be.

    "B.J. Phillips is also a real cerebral guy – as smart as they come. He's just really working on some of the mechanical things that he and I have talked about to polish his game and make it better," Shoop said.

    "Ben Johnson is doing a wonderful job. He's an extremely bright young quarterback. He's being accurate with it, trying to distribute it to all the guys, and he's just been fantastic."


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