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As the second-year head coach alluded to during his Wednesday press conference, the team paid particular attention to special teams on Saturday, although the depth of the work went beyond basic punting and placekicking opportunities. The Tar Heels focused on onside kicks, punting from the offense's end zone and other similar situations.
The reason is simple – sometimes the oddest plays can determine the outcome of a ball game.
"I was involved in a game when I was at the University of Miami playing against West Virginia where virtually if they get the punt off, we lose the game," Davis said. "Fortunately for us, there's less than 30 seconds to go in the game and we blocked a punt and actually pick it up and score to win the game. If they had just known how to take safety at that particular time, we'd have lost the ball game."
With a starting lineup pretty much set save a few positions, the North Carolina coaching staff has worked on building depth across the board this preseason. One way of determining the legitimacy of that depth is by pitting the second-string defense against the first-string offense, and vice versa, which is exactly what the scrimmage entail on Saturday.
"If [the backups] go into a ball game as a replacement for a starter, they've got to play against someone else's best players," Davis said. "And I think that's one of the things from an evaluation standpoint is [finding out] how they play against the best players."
It's one thing for backup cornerbacks Richie Rich or Tavorris Jolly to work against second and third-team wide receivers, but defending Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate is a different matter entirely.
Another reason for that decision is to just mix things up on the field.
"Sometimes it gets stale – Garrett Reynolds knows E.J. Wilson's best pass-rush moves," Davis said. "They've been going against each other now head-to-head for the better part of three years, so sometimes you want your defensive linemen and offensive linemen to see a different array of types of moves."
The Tar Heels conducted 25 scrimmage plays from the red zone in a continued attempt to overcome the lack of the success in that area last fall.
"Your season certainly could be dramatically different if you execute better and put the ball in the end zone with a combination of running it and passing it," Davis said.
The red zone drills also puts the defense under more pressure, and the coaching staff added another wrinkle into the scrimmage for defensive coordinator Everett Withers' unit.
"We let some of the drives go a little bit longer," Davis said. "The players went into the scrimmage thinking, ‘I've got 10 plays – if I get through this 10, I can go get a Gatorade.' And we didn't stop it at 10 plays. A lot of times we let it go to 12, 13 or 14 on purpose, even if they actually got them stopped, because at some point in a game, you've got to suck it up. No matter what the situation is – you could be tired or you could be sucking wind and you've got to push through mentally some of that exhaustion and fatigue."
There was only one negative item of note that Davis commented on following the scrimmage.
"We had more turnovers offensively than we would have liked," Davis said. "We had a couple of fumbles and a couple of them with some of the younger running backs, but we can't turn the football over. We've got to do a great job of protecting the football and making sure that we don't turn the football over."
With 19 preseason practices in the books, the Tar Heels will take Sunday off following Saturday night's Meet the Heels event and return to the practice field on Monday afternoon.
Additional News & Notes:
-- Senior wide receiver Cooter Arnold and junior college transfer safety Melvin Williams suffered ankle sprains during Saturday's scrimmage, but X-rays for both players came back negative.
-- While the coaching staff not yet settled on a placekicker between red-shirt freshman Jay Wooten and true freshman Casey Barth, Davis indicated that sophomore walk-on Mark House has moved into the lead for the deep snapper role on the punt team, and that backup junior center Lowell Dyer is working with the first team as the placekicking deep snapper.
-- Red-shirt freshman Mike Paulus and red-shirt junior Cam Sexton continue to split reps at quarterback with the second-team offense, but true freshman Braden Hanson is also getting some work under center.
"One thing that you can't lose sight of is that you've got to give Braden Hanson some reps," Davis said. "He's got to continue to grow as a quarterback, as well. So we probably gave him 15-20 reps there at the end of the scrimmage when the third-team guys were in play… We tried to mix it up so that he was going with full scholarship players, and not just down the line players and walk-ons."
-- The hype surrounding safety-turned-running back Shaun Draughn continues to grow with every passing day of training camp. The red-shirt sophomore scored the offense's opening touchdown on Saturday on a spin move at the line of scrimmage and a bounce to the outside for a five-yard scoring run.
Add red-shirt sophomore safety Deunta Williams to the list that is not surprised by Draughn's success in the backfield.
"I used to talk to Shaun in high school before we came here, and we would talk on the phone about what we did," Williams said. "Neither of our high schools were too hot our senior year, so [I would ask him], ‘How many yards did you rush for?' And he'd say, ‘150.' And then you'd see one of his highlights and nobody was blocking for him on the line and he's juking everybody out of their shoes. So I knew he had the talent… It's been fun to see him doing what's he's doing."
One thing that Williams hasn't been able to do is land a square hit on Draughn.
"I sure haven't," Williams said. "Shaun is real shifty. He's one of those guys that moves out of the way at the last second, so I think that's good because you take some of those big hits off you. And sometimes you can escape the hit, because some guys tackle with their eyes closed."