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"It truly really is a one game at a time type of a season," Davis told a crowd of 400 at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center when asked about his thoughts on the coming season. "There's enormous expectations by our players and by our coaching staff for us to be better than we were last year, but we can't get caught up in the idea that you look forward or past anyone."
The Triangle Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame hosted the sixth annual fundraising event, which featured Davis, NCSU head coach Tom O'Brien, new Duke head coach David Cutcliffe and NCCU head coach Mose Rison.
The Tar Heels will feature sophomores at quarterback (T.J. Yates), running back (Greg Little), safety (Deunta Williams), linebacker (Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter) and defensive tackle (Marvin Austin).
As a glaring example, 20 of the 24 student-athletes that will represent the 12 ACC members this weekend at the conference's media kickoff are seniors. North Carolina will send Williams and junior Hakeem Nicks.
Davis reiterated that Little will factor heavily into the success of his program this fall.
"As the head coach, I obviously take responsibility for the fact that we weren't very smart last year," Davis said. "It took us until the 10th game of the season to find out that maybe the best running back that we had on the football team was playing wide receiver. I think moving Greg Little to running back and the performances that he had against Georgia Tech and Duke certainly gives us reason for optimism."
While the Durham, N.C. product will not be called on to carry the workload alone with various backs behind him, Davis made it clear that Yates is expected to be the Tar Heels' primary option under center when fall practice starts in 15 days.
"No, there's really not – only health would determine that there would be a change right now," said Davis, when asked if there was any question if Yates will be the starting signal-caller. "It's our full expectation that on the first day of training camp, T.J. will be the starter. Certainly, we expect him – having gone through 12 games – that he's got the experience of being in a game, being under pressure, [and] being under fire, that he'll make good decisions."
The Marietta, Ga., sophomore has been completely cleared to resume all football-related activities after postseason shoulder surgery, and Davis said that the injury directly affected Yates' performance down the stretch.
"Looking back at the last three or four games of the season, the way he was throwing the football, I think that injury was certainly affecting some of the throws that he made," Davis said. "He didn't have the same zip on the ball. There were some times that guys were open deep that earlier in the season he'd hit those guys in stride and they'd be big plays for our offense, and the ball was underthrown.
"And I think that he tried to gut it out and suck it up and I think that it probably hurt his performance a little bit, but now he's 100 percent healthy."
Davis also indicated that the team's leadership took a hit with the loss of departed seniors Durell Mapp, Kentwan Balmer and Hilee Taylor, saying, "It's an area that we've certainly got to spend some significant time trying to grow some more leadership."
While Davis and O'Brien spent much of last year's event providing laughs for those in attendance, Cutcliffe stepped up on Thursday to provide the afternoon's comic relief.
When asked if the Blue Devils were trying to install an offense similar to the New England Patriots, Cutcliffe replied, "We're trying to simulate an offense, period. It's very similar in that there's a center snap and the quarterback takes the ball."
And when the first-year coach was asked about spring ball, he said, "I hate to tell the other three [coaches] this, but I called the NCAA during spring practice and I got an extra five days because I told them the first five days looked nothing like football."