Heels Working to Rebound

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Head coach Butch Davis spoke to reporters following Wednesday's practice, as the Tar Heels prepare for their ACC road opener against Miami on Saturday afternoon.

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Butch Davis Wednesday Post-Practice:

* Let's get the first order of business taken care of quickly and with as little pain as possible. When Davis was asked if the coaching staff had decided on Saturday's starter at quarterback in place of T.J. Yates, the second-year head coach replied, "We have not."

* Despite there not being a signal caller named yet, you should expect North Carolina's quarterback play to improve against the Hurricanes. While it's easy to judge Mike Paulus after his performance in Saturday's loss – 3-of-8 for 23 yards and two interceptions – he was thrown into his first significant action without much game preparation the week before. Davis estimated that Yates normally takes 70-75 percent of the snaps during practice, with Paulus and Cam Sexton alternating blitz periods to stay sharp.

They have split reps this week, and will enter the game against Miami ready to go. And as Davis pointed out, the Tar Heels offense doesn't revolve around just one player.

"If anybody thinks that the entire success of our offense is solely sitting on the shoulders of the quarterback that's in the game, the other ten guys may as well not show up," Davis said. "The offensive line still has to protect and run block, the receivers still have to catch balls and block down field, and the running backs still have to run, so it is a shared responsibility."

* Few players have experienced the ups and downs that Sexton has dealt with during his time in Chapel Hill. A SuperPrep All-American rated as the No. 6 quarterback in the country coming out of high school, the Laurinburg, N.C. product broke his ankle during his first spring practice in 2005.

During former head coach John Bunting's swan dive into the unemployment line in 2006, Sexton was thrust into a difficult situation of competing with Joe Dailey for the starting quarterback spot. The then-red-shirt freshman struggled, completing just 42 percent of his passing attempts (57 of 136) for 840 yards with four touchdowns and eight interceptions.

And when Davis and his coaching staff entered the picture and tabbed Yates as the starter last August, many fans expected Sexton to consider transferring to another school. But the red-shirt junior has fought through the adversity and now finds himself battling once again for the starting quarterback job at North Carolina.

"I don't know all about the past history, but I can tell you that I think that he's handled everything unbelievably well," Davis said. "He's continued to work, he's continued to study film and prepare [and] he's showed a lot of class and integrity. I think he's done very [well] for the situation he's been put in."

* After a 2007 season in which the Tar Heels disintegrated at times on special teams, this year's version has provided one of the better storylines of September. North Carolina leads the ACC and ranks 22nd nationally in kickoff returns (24.42 yards per return), while ranking 2nd in the ACC and 16th nationally in kickoff return defense (17.3 yards per return). Brandon Tate's talented reach also extends to punt returns, where UNC leads the league and ranks 5th nationally with a 23.2 yards per return average.

There are still areas for improvement, however, as the Heels rank 102nd nationally in punt return coverage, allowing 18.0 yards per return.

"I think it's evidence that the program is starting to show some signs of progress," Davis said. "We didn't get really good on special teams at Miami until years 3-4-5-6. Once you've really got a lot of depth in your program. We're still in a situation that too many of the incoming freshmen are relied upon to have to contribute significantly on offense and defense.

"There will come a day that we'll have some really good, talented freshmen and sophomores and red-shirt sophomores that will be the bulk of all your special teams. We're still playing some walk-ons on some of those teams. But it is a movement in the right direction."

* Davis indicated that his staff met last Friday to discuss which players were not being utilized properly, and they came up with a list of 20 kids that should be given bigger roles in various aspects of all three phases of the game. He used the freshmen defensive end trio of Robert Quinn, Quinton Coples and Michael McAdoo as examples, expressing disappointment that those players didn't see any action in the season opener against McNeese State.

"We can't wait until next year for them to get experience," Davis said. "Throw them into the fire and let them play and let them go out there and get their nose bloodied some days and have some success. They'll be the beneficiary of it."

* While North Carolina's 208 rushing statistics (141.0) are up over 40 percent from last fall, the running back duo of Greg Little and Shaun Draughn have drawn some serious heat from the fan base after combining for just 263 yards and three touchdowns on 70 carries – a 3.75 yards per carry average.

Davis has fielded questions about the lack of production from his running backs for most of the season, including every day this week dating back to Saturday's postgame press conference, and understandably, his frustration in defending his ground game spilled over during his post-practice interview session.

"If a team sets ups with [a nine-man front] structure, and they are going to blitz out of it, stop the run and play the pass out of it, you could be really foolish and say, ‘We're going to line up and hand the ball to this tailback 27 times and at the end of the game, we've got 53 yards,'" Davis said. "Or you could say, ‘You know what? If all of these guys are in here, we're going to fake that tailback back up inside there, and we're going to hand it to Brooks [Foster] and he's going to run for 57 outside.'

"What's the difference? It's just a matter of how you want to attack it. Running yards is running yards. And I don't make light of it, but until people get tired of Brooks and Brandon [Tate] and Hakeem [Nicks] and those guys running reverses and they say, ‘You know what? This play isn't working real well.'"

* Davis refused to make a big deal about playing his former team last season, and judging by his comments to the media, the Tar Heels may as well be traveling to play North Texas on Saturday.

When asked how he thought the Hurricane fan base would react to his first appearance at Dolphin Stadium as an opposing coach, Davis replied, "I have no idea. Miami's the opponent. We played them last year, and we're just going back down to play them in Joe Robbie. I've only been there two times in my life as a coach, so it's just another road game."

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