Butch Davis Thursday Q&A (w/audio)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- North Carolina coach Butch Davis held his weekly conversation with reporters on Thursday at Kenan Stadium following the Tar Heels' final practice before the Spring Game. Read and listen to what he had to say...

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What do you feel like you've accomplished this spring?

I actually believe that we've accomplished a great deal. A lot of it is practice format, practice attitude, practice preparation and practice teamwork. We've also started to instill a toughness attitude. It's going to be physical. We're going to play a physical game of football in all three phases. I think we've come a long way in identifying their strengths and…I won't even use the term weaknesses.

On the Spring Game format -

It will probably be close to about two hours on the field. The first part will be warm up-type things – getting guys ready. Then we'll have some seven-on-seven, some nickel and some red zone-type of work. Then we're probably going to do about a 15-play kicking script of situational kicks. We'll have some punts where we're punting out of our own end zone. We'll punt from inside the 50 trying to down the ball inside the five-yard line. We'll try to spread out the field. We'll do a couple of kickoff returns. We'll do a couple of field goals – some live situational things with Connor [Barth]. After we do that, we'll take about a five-minute break, and then we'll try to have somewhere between about 65 and 90 scrimmage plays.

What we'd really like to do is scale back the coaching aspect of it. We have challenged these guys a great deal mentally. Every day has been new plays, new formations, new defenses and coverages. We would like to say, ‘OK, we're going to make it basic and simple. Now just go play.' And not have to do a great deal of thinking, and let some of their athletic ability show up and see who can make some plays. I truly believe our efficiency level in terms of mistakes and formations and things like that should disappear to some extent because we're going to not do as many complicated things as we've been doing.

On getting the desired tempo -

You have to get the players in tune to listening on the sideline. We're going to change personnel groupings potentially almost every play. But you've got to be alert. You've got to be ready to get to the line of scrimmage, in and out of the huddle fast-paced, put a lot of pressure on the defense from an offensive perspective. It also helps your defense from a standpoint that even though it is not a two-minute situation, it's at such a high tempo that you've got to be prepared that the ball instead of being snapped every seconds, it might be snapped every 25 seconds. It forces communication. Guys have to communicate a great deal, either through hand signals or verbally, and I think it makes your practices much better. It makes you better prepared for the games.

Now that you've been around Hakeem Nicks, tell me what you have learned about him -

He has excellent hands. Hakeem can catch the football. Obviously, that's the No. 1 criteria for any great receiver. You can have all the speed in the world and you can have all the moves in the world, but if you can't catch, it doesn't make any difference. He's big and he's physical. His game to some extent reminds me a great deal of the potential of what Michael Irvin played with. Michael was a 4.55 guy, maybe a 4.59. He would like to tell you he was faster than that, but he really wasn't. But he was physical. He was big. He was strong. He was hard to hold at the line of scrimmage because he's such a big target. And he played really big in the red zone.

On communication between players and coaches -

It takes awhile to learn all the positive things that coaches can do. At the same time, the players have to learn, ‘What is acceptable? What is it Coach that you're looking for?' From an attitude and effort standpoint and from a performance standpoint…film critiques and the coaches' ability to communicate and tell players what are the standards of acceptable performance. That's how you get good.

On the quarterback rotation for the Spring Game -

They're going to all play. I would venture to say that every guy on this football team hopefully will probably have somewhere between 25 and snaps before the day is over, regardless of whether they're first or second or third team players. We want to get everybody on film. This will probably be the film we will study the most of the players over the summertime, just to find out actually how far they've come. Monday's practice was probably one of the best practices we've had all spring long. We were clicking on all cylinders. And we showed them some clips from practices one, two and three; and they were giggling and laughing about how much they were struggling then, and how much better they had become in just a short two-and-a-half-week period of time.

What are the quarterbacks' strengths?

I do believe they've got good arms. I think they can throw the football well. They're inexperienced. None of these guys have got a wealth of game-time experience. They're like a blank easel, so to speak. They're trying to paint a picture of what they can do. I think that they've made strides. I truly believe that they're better quarterbacks than they were three weeks ago.

How does this team's work effort and ethic compare to your teams at Miami and other schools?

I think the attitude here is outstanding. I think the kids have bought into the things the things that we want to do perhaps quicker than any place I've ever been. But inevitably, we're still not where we want to be. And we won't be where we want to be at the end of next year. Our goal is hopefully that with every single practice, there are no regrets, no wasted practices, we get better every day, and we get better every week. And I think we're working to try and accomplish that.

On expectations of the players during the rest of spring and summer -

We've actually saved one practice. Today was No. 13, Saturday will be 14 and Monday will be 15. We saved a practice, because we wanted to come out and we wanted to show them over the next three months when we're not here. When we're on the road recruiting or we're on vacation and when they're in summer school, we're going to go through all the different kinds of things – the one-on-ones, the individual routes, what we expect them to do to improve when coaches aren't on the field. How the seniors and some of the starters have got to take a leadership role. How they're going to work around summer school schedules and that kind of thing. We hope to try and impart that message on Monday.

Has a running back emerged?

I don't think so yet. I think we've seen flashes. Richie Rich has shown some real flashes of speed. And here in the last week, he's shown a wonderful amount of toughness and running hard, and not just relying on his speed. Anthony Elzy is a tough, physical runner. He has the ability to move piles. Anthony Parker-Boyd is a guy that played quarterback. But I'll tell you this, he moves piles. There's an old adage in football that says sometimes you have to be your own blocker. Sometimes you can't block them all, and sometimes you have to run over a safety or run over a linebacker. And today in a goal line, he got hit 1st and goal at the three-yard line, and when got up unpiling, he had moved the ball all the way to the one-yard line – and we didn't block either of the linebackers. He lowered his head and just drove his legs. I think that's a huge positive. Johnny White has been nursing a sprained ankle, but he got off to a great start. He showed some good hands, and hopefully he can scrimmage full speed this Saturday.

Who will start the spring game at quarterback?

We may flip a coin.

Is it still wide open?

Yes, and they're going to all rotate in and out. Like I said, they'll all take 25 to 30 snaps and we'll try to put them all in situations where they'll get to play will all the different groups.

What have you seen with the offensive line?

Great work ethic; and I think there is excellent leadership in that group. Garrett Reynolds is just a terrific worker. I think that they're some very good young players on this football team. They're receptive and they've got the skills. I think they've got to get stronger throughout the course of next season to continue to become the kind of offensive linemen we would like them to be. But we've got the potential for the makings of a good offensive line.

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