Spring Game: Offense Notebook

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Inside Carolina's Don Callahan provides analysis on the offense from Monday's Spring Game ...

* With the defensive dominance reported during the first two closed scrimmages of the spring, the offense had a solid showing, scoring touchdowns on three of the eight drives and showing the ability to consistently move the ball down the field.

"The offense did a lot better than we have been doing," Paulus said. "The first scrimmage we came out and had some big shot plays, big down-the-field plays. And then last week during the second scrimmage, both first and second [team], and the third team really got shutout by our defense.

"So as an offense [today] we just wanted to come out and drive the ball down the field. And think both offenses did that."

Although he spent much of the spring with the second string offense, Paulus lined up with the starters for the spring game – as well as the four practices prior. On the day, he completed 11-of-16 passes for 159 yards. He did, though, have two self-induced sacks when he tripped over the center during his drop back.

"It's definitely a difference [playing with the starters]," Paulus said. "… I think I just did a lot better this scrimmage than I did last scrimmage, because I'm more acquainted."

Junior Cam Sexton, who started the spring with the starters, completed 7-of-9 passes for 104 yards. He threw an interception in the end zone, and also fumbled the ball while escaping a collapsing pocket.

"I thought that both of them today showed flashes," Davis said. "… Mike had a very positive day. He had no turnovers, didn't throw any interceptions, he was efficient with the football, made some plays, showed a little bit of pocket presence being able to escape a little bit from the rush.

"I think that clearly Cam's second spring practice is infinitely better than the spring practice that he had a year ago. He's got the basis of knowing the offense, not feeling the pressure of having to go out there and trying to impress everybody."

* Paulus' favorite target was junior wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who caught four passes for 85 yards.

"Paulus is getting better every day; I tell him that," Nicks said. "He's getting a lot better on and off the field. He's got the fight to get better – that's what we like about him. He's not scared of going out there and performing. He makes a mistake and gets right back to the next play."

Most of Nicks' yards came on a 45-yard catch between two defenders, which was tossed up in the air haphazardly by Paulus, who was facing the rush of the defensive line.

"[Paulus] threw the ball up, Da'Norris [Searcy] bit on the play fake, Mike under threw it a little bit, but to get his confidence up I know I just have to always come down with the ball," Nicks said. "That helps the quarterbacks knowing that he has receivers that have his back. Just come down with the ball – that's what I do."

Over the last year of practice, Nicks has received passes from three different quarterbacks.

"I'm comfortable with all one of them," Nicks said. "I get a lot of reps with all of them to get them better and to develop a repoire, because we don't know who's going to be the starter."

* Davis stated after the Spring Game that the running game was one of the major focuses during the spring.

"I think today was a very positive step forward," Davis said. "Not only did Greg Little perform and do like what we thought like he could do, but certainly Ryan Houston, Anthony Elzy, and Devon Ramsay – I thought that all four of those guys had a very good day running the football."

Little, a sophomore, picked up where he left off last season collecting 51 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. He displayed great footwork and vision, and the ability to break arm tackles.

However, Little left the game unsatisfied with his performance.

"I felt like I'm not complete, I felt like I have to finish more, and I felt like I've left a little out there – and that's how I think you're supposed to feel," Little said. "I wasn't satisfied and I felt like there's always that little bit I can do more."

Later in the scrimmage, Little was on the wrong end of a big hit by Da'Norris Searcy. He answered on the very next play with a 15-yard run that included freezing a defender with a dance-like juke. Two plays later, Little was popped by Kendric Burney.

"There's a lot of talking in the locker room and guys are really competitive," Little said. "And that's going to help us a lot. I feel like with us doing that we're going to grow as a team by pushing each other's limits and buttons. And I feel like everybody is pushing each other to get better."

* Sophomore Ryan Houston, who worked mostly with the second string but did receive some reps with the starters, also had a moment of his own. The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder reversed field and then steamrolled cornerback Jordan Hemby.

"It was kind of jammed up in the middle," Houston said. "… I had a problem in the beginning of spring practice that when it was jammed up, I would just stand there. Coach told me I need to start bouncing it out. So I was bounced it out and I saw Jordan Hemby.

"I wanted to hit him low, but I didn't know if he's going to move. He tried to hit me, so I was like ‘I'm just going to run him over.' He came and I ran him over. I was just ecstatic after that."

Houston carried the ball 10 times for 44 yards, including a three-yard touchdown that opened up the day's scoring.

* Converted guard Aaron Stahl has lined up with the first team at center for all of the spring, while Lowell Dyer, who started six games at center last fall, has worked with the back-ups. However, Davis says there is by no means a clear cut starting center.

"There's a good battle going on," Davis said. "We gave Aaron Stahl the first opportunity, because we had an opportunity to look at Lowell Dyer last year when Scott Lenehan was out... We just wanted to experiment and find out if there would be a dramatic upgrade in the center position if he was that guy.

"We'll look at the film today and look at it in the big picture of what transpired during the spring and say ‘Ok, what is the best five guys that can break that huddle.' And then we'll re-line them up if we have to in the fall."

* The rest of the offensive line appears to be set, at least until fall practice begins and injured players and incoming freshmen join the fray. The first group includes (left to right) sophomore Mike Ingersoll, senior Bryon Bishop, senior Calvin Darity, and senior Garrett Reynolds. The second team is red-shirt freshman Carl Gaskins, sophomore Alan Pelc, red-shirt freshman Mike Dykes, and sophomore Morgan Randall.

* UNC was able to end the spring game without any major injuries. Sophomore tight end B.J. Phillips and red-shirt freshman offensive guard Mike Dykes both sustained ankle sprains.

* T.J. Yates didn't play in the Spring Game, but threw in practice for the first time today since having surgery on his shoulder back in November.

Davis doesn't believe Yates missing the entire spring will be an issue.

"I don't think it's absolutely devastating that he [doesn't practice], because I think that he grew mentally [during this spring]," Davis said. "… He knew that he couldn't take the actual physical reps, so he really challenged himself mentally. Trust me, every drill that we had if you would pan the screen out you'd see T.J. over in the corner going ‘Read one, read two, read three,' as if he was actually in the play."

Heading into fall practice, the starting quarterback job will be Yates' to lose.

"If T.J. is 100-percent healthy the very first day of practice, he is the heir apparent," Davis said. "It is his job, but as I've told all the players on our football team there is no job that is unapproachable."

* UNC will hold its final scrimmage of the spring Tuesday.

"We saved [the last practice] on purpose to so that we can come back and evaluate today's practice," Davis said.

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