Setting the Tone

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- The 2007 North Carolina Tar Heels took the practice field for the first time Friday afternoon, following the lead of their coaching staff with high energy and enthusiasm resonating across Navy Field.

"Obviously it's a very exciting time - starting the 2007 season," head coach Butch Davis said Friday. "Five or six months ago this seemed like a million years into the future ... The reality of it is that today is the first official day of the season ... This is a great opportunity for us to find out as a coaching staff what this football team is really going to be about."

A bullhorn sounded the start of the first segment of the three-hour practice, a period designed for freshmen and redshirt freshmen to get individual attention from their position coaches. And while the tempo was slower than what the veteran players experienced in spring practice, the speed of the drills seized the underclassmen's attention.

Strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors barked out orders during the initial flex period, shouting "spread it out," "knees up to your chest," and "lot of reps" repeatedly. The entire coaching staff walked the rows of players, offering instruction and encouragement simultaneously.

Another bullhorn blast led to a second session of position drills, with a consistent theme of completing each play, whether it was running backs coach Ken Browning intensely yelling "finish it" to his group, or linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen shouting "don't die on me, don't die on me" to his unit.

The veterans struggled through this learning curve in the spring, having to quickly adjust to the speed of a Butch Davis practice.

"Everything's bam-bam-bam, because that's how a game is," junior offensive tackle Garrett Reynolds said. "We practice fast, we learn fast, we do everything fast. At first it's hard, because you're like ‘Oh man, I don't know if I'm going to be able to keep up,' but you learn to keep up with it, you train yourself to keep up with it, and once you get used to that tempo, everything's fine."

The pace of the action caught some of the freshmen off-guard, with offensive coordinator John Shoop telling the running backs, "We've got to get some endurance -- you guys are already tired and we're just 10 minutes into the period?"

Defensive line coach John Blake managed a similar situation with humor, telling his linemen to get some water, but when several of the players walked toward the sideline, he said: "You don't have to go nowhere, though – stay right here."

When drills matched one group with another, the coaches voiced their enthusiasm when their unit executed properly, and offered constructive criticism when their group was outperformed. And the exercises were not always at full-speed, allowing the younger players to learn the proper technique before ratcheting up the tempo.

Davis said the goal of this training camp is to instruct his squad on the intricacies involved with the game, while stressing a sense of urgency for each player to get better on a daily basis.

"There are clearly a lot of opportunities for kids to play," Davis said. "I told the players, and I've been telling them over the last couple of months, our goal and objective as a coaching staff is to get our football team as well-prepared [as possible] – the emphasis on the little things, great fundamentals, being a smart football, being a physical football team, but being prepared to play week one…

"I fully expect, and I believe this with all my heart, that this is a football team that has the opportunity to get better every day at practice, and then certainly every game as the season goes along."

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