Yates Back Under Center

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The last time T.J. Yates took his helmet onto the football field was Nov. 24, 2007 – the season finale against Duke. That is, until opening day of UNC's fall training camp on Friday. The sophomore signal-caller is completely healthy and ready to put his shoulder injury behind him.

The Sporting News Freshman All-America had postseason surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum in his right throwing arm, and was forced to miss spring practice during the recovery process. Yates was allowed to begin throwing footballs on April 7th, and gradually increased his repetitions and distance until being given a clean bill of health in May.

With preseason hype penciling North Carolina in as a legitimate challenger for Virginia Tech in the ACC's Coastal Division, the No. 1 storyline entering fall practice has been how well the Marietta, Ga.'s shoulder will hold up. But within the program, those concerns are a thing of the past.

"For our football team and our coaching staff and our medical staff, I think it's pretty much answered," head coach Butch Davis said on Friday. "It's to the point that we don't even talk about it or discuss it. When we talk about injuries with the training staff, that's not something that we've talked about because he's been throwing for the better part of two months. He's been pushing the envelope for quite a while."

Yates confirmed that information on Saturday afternoon, following his second practice of the preseason.

"I was sore a little bit yesterday, but I think I was [sorer] yesterday than I am now," said Yates, who threw for a UNC single-season record 2,655 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2007. "I think it just took a little bit of time to get it loosened up and everything, going through a practice. My shoulder is not an issue right now for me."

What is an issue for the red-shirt sophomore is getting back into the rhythm of playing with a full slate of offensive and defensive linemen, something that was not a regular occurrence during the offseason's weekly 7-on-7 competitions.

"You can only do so many simulations, but when you actually get in there and you have to read defenses through the defensive and offensive lines, it's a lot different," Yates said. "That's one thing that I'm very rusty at right now, but other than that I'm doing pretty good in 7-on-7 and throwing drills. But it's when we actually get in team situations that I'm a little uncomfortable, but it'll work itself out in a couple of days."

Davis indicated during Friday's Media Day activities that training camp should not be too much of a shock for Yates, saying that the quarterback would not be throwing nearly as many balls in practice as he did in summer workouts. Those thoughts have been proven true through two days of work.

"When I was doing offseason stuff, I would throw close to 80-100 balls a day," Yates said. "We went through and counted the throws [during practice], and it wasn't even half that. With all of the drills and team situations, it wasn't even close to that much, so that shouldn't be a factor."

Yates no longer looks like the wide-eyed freshman that Davis presented to the media as the starting quarterback last August. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder has filled out in his upper body, and he exudes confidence when talking to reporters.

Twelve games of experience at a BCS conference school will do that for a player, and despite not being able to take reps during spring ball, offensive coordinator John Shoop made sure that his returning starter under center stayed on top of every other aspect of the position.

"During the spring, I wasn't out there at all," Yates said on Friday. "[Shoop] wanted me to help a lot with teaching it to everybody, and he always says that to be able to teach it, you have to know it. So just going through the whole spring and watching as much film as possible, it helped me to learn it a lot better, going at it from a coaches' aspect of watching the whole practice and watching everyone else do it."

But the spring, and more importantly, the shoulder injury, is in the past. After nine months of standing on the sidelines, Yates is now able to join his teammates on the practice field without any health concerns.

"It feels good," Yates said. "Coming off the field and not even having to worry about what my shoulder feels like – that's a really good feeling. I can just worry about everything else but my shoulder, such as reading defenses and getting in the film room and trying to study up and get better as a football player."

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