Heels Make Strides in First Scrimmage

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The Tar Heels experienced their first live action of the 2007 season Saturday afternoon with an 80-play scrimmage held at Navy Field. Head coach Butch Davis told the media in a post-practice interview that his players have begun to come together as a team during the first full week of training camp.

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Butch Davis Saturday Post-Scrimmage:
Part I: (7:09)
Part II: (7:04)

"We're still a long ways from where we need to be for the opening [game], but just the cohesiveness of offense, defense, nickel, special teams – going out and being able to execute an awful of the things that we're asking them to do," Davis said. "Their effort continues to be very, very good."

Officials have been present at most of North Carolina's practices this past week, but the coaching staff brought in Atlantic Coast Conference officials this afternoon to expose the players to mental errors in live game situations.

"[We talked about] being a team that can play all-out, full-speed, fly around and make plays, but we want to be smart," Davis said. "We don't want to be a football team that beats ourselves with an inordinate number of penalties. And today, probably through the first 45 or 50 plays of the scrimmage, we didn't have one single offensive infraction."

The scrimmage contained a large number of special teams plays, including full-speed live kicking situations – field goals, punts, and kickoffs. Davis said his staff will break down the film on Sunday morning, before holding a team meeting that evening about the positives and the negatives of the scrimmage.

"This film we'll study very, very hard," Davis said. "There will be no decisions made on anybody – offensive line, defensive line, secondary, quarterbacks, none of the positions – until we get a chance to really digest that film. Take a look at it, watch the execution, watch the comprehension of what we're trying to get done, the passion that somebody plays with, the excellence, [and] the intelligence that they play with."

While Davis did not name a starting quarterback, he did confirm that redshirt freshman T.J. Yates and sophomore Cameron Sexton were the two frontrunners for the position.

"Neither of these guys has got a wealth of playing experience," Davis said. "It's not like one guy has played and started for two years, and he's played in 25 or so games. And it's a brand new system… It's a position that has to be earned. It's built on trust. Who's going to work the hardest, who's going to make – as I've said many times – who's going to make the fewest bad plays?"

Davis indicated that true freshman Mike Paulus, along with senior Ben Johnson and redshirt freshman B.J. Phillips, are very much in the running for playing time this season.

"To be honest with you, I'm pleased with Mike," Davis said. "It is a hard transition. In six, seven, eight days of practice, we have pulled no punches with any of these freshmen. You could have taken the approach with Mike and all of these freshmen that you're just going to spoon-feed them little bitty things, and they might be good at little bitty things, but you'd have no idea how much and how quickly could they potentially even help you this season."

During Friday's post-practice interview, Davis said that the scrimmage would be important for figuring out the running back position, and he was impressed by several players in the backfield on Saturday.

"Anthony Elzy and Johnny White did some very good things in the running game, and Ryan Houston had some very good stats, as far as running the football today," Davis said.

A true freshman on the defensive side of the ball also received a lot of praise from his head coach.

"Bruce Carter, at linebacker, really shows up and makes some plays," Davis said. "When you watch Bruce practice, he doesn't even practice like a freshman. He looks like a veteran, and his comfort level at making the transition from being an offensive player and a guy playing in the secondary to linebacker just continues to get better, and he's doing a nice job."

Davis highlighted both groups in the trenches, naming defensive linemen Kentwan Balmer, Hilee Taylor, Darrius Massenburg, Aleric Mullins and Cam Thomas as having productive scrimmages. The offensive also proved to be stout through the first half of the action.

"I don't think that the first unit or the second unit – through the first 45 plays – I don't think that they gave up a sack," Davis said. "Which is encouraging – they're playing cohesively, they're playing well together, but we've still got a long ways to go before that first game."

But perhaps the top performance of the day came from the punting unit.

"We had probably, today, maybe the best punting exhibition that we've had since I've been here," Davis said. "Terence Brown and Jay Wooten absolutely just murdered the ball. You talk about execution – the get-off times were outstanding. They were right around 1.99 [seconds], 2.00, 2.08 get-offs on all of them. Hang-times were well over 4.5. Yardages were in the excess of probably 44 to 45 to 48 yards, and equally as important as all of that, was the ability to directionally kick it."

The Tar Heels will not practice on Sunday, instead doing some strength and conditioning work in the afternoon before the team meeting tomorrow evening. North Carolina will return to the practice field on Monday, in the form of a two-a-day.

Notes from Davis' post-scrimmage interview:

  • On Mullins: "He is extraordinarily strong. He's got a great center of gravity – it's low. He's powerful. He's got fast, quick hands. He can snatch you, get his hands on you really well. Because of his center of gravity, he can anchor at the point of attack. He's difficult to move, but he's got quickness to escape from blockers and make plays."

  • On Brandon Tate's success as a return man: "The one common thread that runs through all of them is that they're fearless. They love the challenge of getting the ball and trying to take it to the house, whether it's great punt returners or great kick returners. You cannot run timidly. Holes are only going to open for fractions of a second. Timing and execution of the blocking – if it happens, the window that it opens might only be a split second, and you have got to have the great acceleration and burst, and certainly he's got that."

  • On defensive tackle Kyndraus Guy coming back from injury and participating in the scrimmage: "He may have taken as many as 20 reps. And he is powerful. He is quick and he's explosive. Certainly I think his conditioning needs to get a little bit better, because it's been a while since he's played."

    But I think one of the things – and I think this is a pretty universal opinion about guys who have had major significant surgery – they have to get through that threshold, not only physically the pain of breaking through that, but that you are okay. And everyday, I think he's getting a little bit closer."

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