Spring Midway Report

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Head coach Butch Davis spoke to reporters following Wednesday's practice, as the Tar Heels are now just past the halfway point of their spring sessions.

* After a 2007 spring practice that consisted of player/coach introductions and football terminology education sessions, this spring has focused more on fundamentals and execution. Now that the coaching staff knows what each player's individual gifts are, they are able to take advantage of those abilities.

"We're now in the situation where we can try to specifically craft roles for guys," Davis said. "Every kid wants to play. They want to have some impact on Saturday. And we're trying to get them, like the New England Patriots, to buy in to the idea that you may only play 15 plays, but those are going to be 15 of the most important plays. You may be a nickel player or you may be a special teams player, or you may just be in on short-yardage and goal line."

* On the flip side, injuries have slowed the Tar Heels progress this spring. Davis indicated that seven to eight guys were sidelined with injuries, including potential starters OT Kyle Jolly (toe), SS Trimane Goddard (wrist) and DE Darrius Massenburg (wrist).

"The only real negative thus far throughout the whole spring is maybe that we've had to tempered back a little bit of the scrimmage work, just because of numbers," Davis said. "We just don't have the numbers this spring that I think that we'll have in future springs."

* Two of the more positive storylines coming out of spring practice at the midway point has been the increased depth at both offensive line and in the defensive backfield. While Kendric Burney and Charlie Brown return as starters from the 2007 squad at cornerback, there were not many options directly behind them. That has started to change, with the move of Johnny White and Richie Rich to cornerback from their '07 position at running back.

"I think the experiment of moving Johnny White and Richie Rich [to cornerback], I think that's been a good experiment," Davis said. "Now, they can actually learn how to play the position. Last year for Richie, it was baptism under fire. ‘Hey Richie, you're a corner,' and then seven days later, ‘By the way, you're going to play in this game and you've got to go cover somebody and there's 65,000 people in the stands, and if you give up a touchdown, you're probably going to lose the game for us.' No pressure at all on this deal.

"But now, he can go out and he can learn how to jam and how to re-route, how to open his hips, how to read formations and stuff. And the same thing with Johnny. Johnny's getting to do now what Richie should have been able to do."

Another player has emerged on the scene, overcoming a variety of injuries to finally show the potential that earned him so high-profile attention on the recruiting trail back in 2005.

"Jordan Hemby has been a very positive thing," Davis said. "Getting him back [healthy] for probably the first time in his entire career, and that would be an enormous bonus for our secondary. One, because he's got speed. Two, he's an older kid and he's got some playmaking ability."

Burney has put aside his cleats and cleaned out his baseball locker, as he's working full-time with the football team now.

"That has made a dramatic difference in him," Davis said. "I think that retarded his growth and development a year ago by splitting time, playing baseball [and football]. And then when spring was over with, instead of working on speed and getting stronger, he spent all of his time with baseball."

* Greg Little has also hung up his basketball shoes, opting to take advantage of spring practice instead of traveling with the Tar Heels through the NCAA Tournament. Currently entrenched as the feature back in offensive coordinator John Shoop's offense, Little's confidence and comfort levels have steadily increased, and the results are showing on the practice field.

"Greg legitimately adds a highlight almost every single practice where he does something unique and special," Davis said.

Sophomore Ryan Houston and red-shirt Devon Ramsay have also taken significant snaps at running back, as running backs coach Kenny Browning stated last week that his goal was simply to give the three players as many reps as humanly possible during spring ball.

"We want to try to be able to have at least two, if not three, guys that can play in every game in situations that would give us a chance to utilize what they do best, and not make it like running back by committee," Davis said. "Where now we know, Greg can do this, Ryan can do this, and Devon can do that."

The UNC head coach indicated that Houston has lost 17 pounds during the offseason, now weighing in the low-to-mid 240s, which has helped his speed and quickness.

* Some good news on the T.J. Yates front – the 2007 starting quarterback is expected to move from the sideline to the practice field relatively soon.

"They're going to release T.J. around the first of April, probably sometime over the next seven or eight days, to start throwing," Davis said. "Which is good news, because it's going to give him the chance to have all of April, May, June, July and August to get ready for the start of the season."

The silver lining to Yates' absence this spring has been the ability for backups Cam Sexton and Mike Paulus to see significant snaps under center.

"I think Mike and Cam have taken a good opportunity presented to them and have kind of run with it, because they've had a chance to get more snaps, more repetitions [and] more opportunities to be with the starting group," Davis said. "We've tried to split the repetitions with those guys. So if we've got 65 plays during the course of a practice, each one of them is probably going to get 25-30 snaps with the first group, and then they're all going to get some with the second and then some with the third."

* North Carolina lost three key members to its special teams unit last fall – Connor Barth (place kicker), Michael Murphy (long snapper) and Ryan Baucom (holder). So as you would imagine, there has been a significant focus placed on finding new guys to fill out those spots.

Four players are working out for the snapper position – Ryan Taylor, Trevor Stuart, Zack Pianalto, Mark House, with Stuart and House seemingly running out front. With the snapper being crucial in building confidence for both the place kickers and punter Terrance Brown, Davis has paid special attention to that battle.

"So we've been putting a lot of pressure on those guys," Davis said. "We're nowhere near good enough right now to even start the season."

The field goal unit ran through 15 live action plays on Monday and then again on Wednesday, with the times hovering in a respectable 1.2-1.3 second range. There continues to be tough competition in claiming Barth's starting spot from last season.

"The kicking situation is wide open," Davis said. "Trase Jones, who is a walk-on, and Jay Wooten, who is a freshman scholarship player, those two guys are kind of battling right now and we'll see if a winner emerges just from this spring that goes into the fall and challenges for the deal."

* North Carolina is expecting anywhere from 300 to 500 high school coaches to show up for its coaching clinic this weekend, running from Thursday to Saturday.

* The Tar Heels will hold a 60-play scrimmage on Saturday, and expect to hold a situational scrimmage next Wednesday that will focus on red zone, short yardage and goal line plays. The final scrimmage that will take place will be the Spring Game on Apr. 5, which is expected to be another 60-play event.

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