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* When Davis was initially hired as North Carolina's head coach last November, his first and most important task was hiring a coaching staff that would work well together both on the sidelines and on the recruiting trail. Associate head coach John Blake was a no-brainer with their friendship spanning four decades, as was the decision to lure defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano away from the National Football League, who worked under Davis during his time at Miami in the late 1990's.
But with Davis' defensive background, arguably the most important hire was bringing in a top-notch offensive coordinator, and the new UNC head coach's NFL contacts consistently pointed toward a young, fiery gunslinger by the name of John Shoop.
Nine games into his first season as a collegiate play caller, Shoop has earned nothing but praise from his new boss.
"He's exceeded my own expectations," Davis said. "The word from all of the people that had referred him to me and had recommended him said that he was a brilliant mind – very smart and very creative. That he was fiercely loyal [and] that he was an excellent teacher. All of those things have absolutely come true and even more so.
"They way in which he stimulates our assistant coaches on offense, to challenge them to come up with creative ideas to add to the game plan and the way that he stimulates our players with their meetings [and] the way that he makes a commitment to those players that if you'll work hard, if you'll really, truly commit, [then] I'll find ways to get you involved in the game plan.
"If you'll run fast and you'll compete, catch the ball, block [or] whatever, then he's going to find a way to get you into the game. If you don't, then you may sit and somebody else is going to get those particular opportunities. I love that – I love the competitive challenge."
* Johnny White won last week's musical chairs competition for the starting running back spot, and the Asheville, N.C. native was effective early in the 16-13 victory over Maryland, gaining most of his 92 yards in the opening period. But the ground game stalled out in the second and third quarters, providing Anthony Elzy with another opportunity for late-game heroics. The Tar Heels needed every single one of Elzy's 37 fourth-quarter yards to hold off a late Terps rally.
With the running back by committee approach firmly intact, Davis avoided naming the primary tailback for Saturday's game against the Wolfpack, pointing to various situations in which both players would see significant snaps.
"If we went out there and we had a twelve-play drive, regardless of which one of those guys was in, and they were gassed and tired and seven or eight carries, you could probably suspect that the other guy is coming in for the second series of the game," Davis said.
* If you were to take a poll at the Kenan Football Center this summer about which area of the football team (other than the quarterback position) was causing the most sleepless nights for the coaching staff, there's a good chance that the overwhelming answer would be the secondary.
The Tar Heels began the season with four starters in the defensive backfield that didn't even see the field in 2006, and only one that had a handful of starts (Trimane Goddard). Then things got interesting when senior cornerback Kendric Williams went down with a season-ending knee injury, and his backup, Jermaine Strong, was indefinitely suspended for violating team rules.
The defensive backs that saw the majority of the snaps against Maryland last weekend included a true freshman (Charles Brown), two red-shirt freshmen (Deunta Williams and Kendric Burney), a recent tailback-turned-nickel back (Richie Rich) and Goddard. That motley crew currently ranks as the 30th-best pass defense in the country, allowing just 198.1 yards through the air.
Davis attributed a large portion of that success to Pagano, who also serves as UNC's defensive backs coach in addition to his coordinator responsibilities.
"There may not be a better secondary coach in the country at any particular level," Davis said. "If you look at the success that he had in Miami with the defensive backs and the number of guys that made it to the NFL, and then taking over the Oakland Raiders secondary and those guys I think were No. 1 in the league last year in pass defense… Kids that play in the secondary here currently and the kids that are coming over the years – they're going to get a chance to play for one of the best teachers [in the country]."
But Davis also complimented his secondary, indicating that the young players are quickly developing the necessary mentality to become effective in coverage. Former Miami player and current Baltimore Ravens stud Ed Reed believed he was going to intercept every pass that came his way, and that thought process is required learning for these young players.
"Two qualities you better have in the secondary besides the physical qualities – you better have selective amnesia, if you make a mistake and you get beat, then you have to forget it and go on to the next play, and I do believe that you've got to have a little, tiny bit of an aura of the riverboat gambler," Davis said. "When these guys figure it out when they can start jumping routes and they can really start anticipating throws, I think that that aura of confidence is extremely important."
* One player that stood out to Pagano in the secondary during training camp was Maple Heights, Ohio native Charles Brown. The defensive coordinator decided to work the true freshman into UNC's nickel packages early in the James Madison season opener. That move would put Brown in a spot to cover the opposing team's top slot receiver – a difficult task for even the most veteran defensive back – but the opportunity for growth and exposure was too great not to utilize the 5-foot-10, 190 pounder.
"We also felt like it would be a way for him to just learn maybe the 2nd-and-long, and third down nickel packages, and he wouldn't have to learn every single thing about all of the coverages and adjustments," Davis said.
That early season experience paid tremendous dividends for the Tar Heels, following the loss of Williams and Strong. While Rich has received much of the fanfare over the past two weeks for his move from the offensive backfield, Davis made it known that Brown has played a vital role in this defense.
"As a true freshman, I think he has more than exceeded our expectations," Davis said.