Spring Ball Ready for Kickoff

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While the start of the 2009 football season is still six months away, early preparations begin on Wednesday as North Carolina holds its first day of spring practice. Butch Davis spoke with reporters on Tuesday about his new assistant coaches and the program's goals for these 15 practices.

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New Assistant Coaches
North Carolina officially announced the hiring of its three new assistant coaches on Tuesday (read here), and Davis spent the opening minutes of his press conference discussions the recent additions.

"It's never easy when there's change – you don't like change," Davis said. "But change sometimes provides you with an opportunity to actually get better, to look and address certain areas of your football team that you'd like to grow in, whether it's offense, defense or special teams… We really truly believe that these three guys will help us in a variety of different ways."

It hasn't even been a month since North Carolina locked down the state of N.C. by signing eight of the top-10 prospects in its borders, but building on that success was an important ingredient in the decisions to bring in the new staff members.

Tight ends coach Allen Mogridge played his position at North Carolina in the mid-1990s, and served as Western Carolina's recruiting coordinator in 2003.Linebackers coach Art Kaufman spent two seasons coaching the defensive line at East Carolina, and defensive backs coach Troy Douglas has recruited the Southeast and was a four-year starter at wide receiver at Appalachian State.

"It wasn't necessarily the No. 1 prerequisite, because certainly, we wanted the best coaches, but as a continuation of making a big emphasis of recruiting the state of North Carolina and the immediate surrounding area – I think all three of those guys do that," Davis said.

Positions to Watch
"This may be one of the most important spring practices that we'll have, because there are a variety of different areas that we've really got to address this spring…," Davis said. "The only way that we're ever going to be very good is to have great position competition."

* First and foremost on the priority ladder is wide receiver. Davis estimated that departed wideouts Hakeem Nicks, Brooks Foster and Brandon played nearly 85 percent of the snaps during his two seasons in Chapel Hill. Add to that the graduation of Cooter Arnold and Kenton Thornton, and experience becomes woefully thin.

But the cupboard is not bare. Greg Little, Todd Harrelson, Rashad Mason, Dwight Jones and Josh Adams will get the bulk of the reps this spring, while Davis highlighted Joshua McKie and Jheranie Boyd as summer enrollees that could factor also into the equation.

One player that has received high marks in early workouts has been Harrelson, a rising red-shirt freshman from Chesapeake, Va.

"I'm very excited about what we've seen from him, and it'll be interesting to watch his progress," Davis said.

When asked if he had any inkling about which wide receivers may serve what roles, the third-year UNC head coach replied, "It will all unfold – ask me that a week before the season starts."

* The offensive line is another position that suffered significant losses in the form of starting right tackle Garrett Reynolds, starting right guard Calvin Darity and backup guard Bryon Bishop. Davis indicated that it was time to find out what players such as Mike Ingersoll, Carl Gaskins, Kevin Bryant and Jonathan Cooper are able to bring to the table.

"So now, who are going to be the guys to step up and who's going to emerge?" Davis said. "It's about finding the cohesive group, who plays best – left side, right side."

One returning lineman thoroughly impressed the coaching with his play in the fall.

"We were thrilled to death with the progress of Alan Pelc last year," Davis said. "Although Alan wasn't a starter, he played significantly."

* While Da‘Norris Searcy, Jonathan Smith and Matt Merletti are lining up to replace All-American Trimane Goddard at strong safety, the coaching staff's main point of secondary emphasis lies on the edge.

"Probably the biggest pressing thing is to try to find really good, competent and quality backup corners, as well as guys that can step in and play as starters in your nickel and all of your sub-packages," Davis said.

Kendric Burney and Jordan Hemby progressed throughout the 2009 season, but Davis and Withers are anxious to see if Charlie Brown can re-emerge after battling injuries most of the fall, as well as finding out what LeCount Fantroy can do in a supporting role.

* As for the position group that needs the most teaching instruction over the next 15 practices, it's hard to not give the nod to the defensive ends, seeing as how three players that played a significant amount of snaps in 2008 – Robert Quinn, Quinton Coples and Michael McAdoo – were not even on campus this time last spring.

"They played on just God-given raw athletic ability," Davis said. "They were getting better each week learning and stuff, but they didn't have a real wealth of fundamental foundations that you can grow and develop during the spring time."

OG Aaron Stahl (shoulder surgery), LB Ryan Taylor (shoulder surgery) and FS Deunta Williams (wrist surgery) will all miss spring practice, while OT Kevin Bryant will be limited as he recovers from wrist surgery in the fall.

Position Changes
Quan Sturdivant excelled at the weakside linebacker spot for the majority of his first two years at North Carolina, but a late-season injury to Mark Paschal moved the Oakboro, N.C. native to middle linebacker for the Continental Tire Bowl against West Virginia.

It appears as though that move may stick.

"We think that that's been a positive move," Davis said. "Quan brings two years of starting experience, so he's got the familiarity and the comfort with the defensive scheme. Obviously, his job description is going to be dramatically and totally different, but I think it's something that he can handle with Bruce Carter being beside him."

Another position move involves the 6-foot-7, 350-pound Kevin Bryant, who moves to offensive tackle from inside at guard.

"He started off at tackle, and then we moved him to guard last year because we had so many tackles," Davis said. "We were just trying to see if we could get him in the two-deep a year ago, but with Garrett [Reynolds] being there, it was difficult to get him as many reps as we felt like we wanted to get him."

Odds & Ends
* If you have looked at spring practice schedule, then you've probably wondered why there are three practices scheduled after the spring showcase game. It's not a typo – it's by design.

"We tried to say, ‘Okay, we're going to have 12 practices about our football team," Davis said. "Every place that I've ever coached, we've tried to save three practices at the conclusion of that so that you can look at some of next year's opponents."

Last spring, North Carolina spent a day on Paul Johnson's offense at Georgia Tech and also touched on the read-option offense, while also fielding a 3-4 defense one day to give offensive coordinator John Shoop at opportunity to prepare for Virginia's defensive set.

Davis indicated that the purpose is to look at opponents that provide an offense or defense that is "unusual and unique." Florida State may get some attention this spring, considering the Tar Heels have not played the Seminoles since this coaching staff arrived.

* While Davis termed T.J. Yates as the "heir apparent" at the quarterback position, he also had some positive things to say about backup Mike Paulus.

"I think that [he] has had probably the most impressive two months in the last two months that he's had since he's been here," Davis said. "His workout ethic, his practice, his lifting, his running. He's really tried to address some things that I think will make him a better quarterback. I think he's stronger now and I think his foot quickness and change of direction [ability] has improved through some of his workouts."

* The Tar Heels will miss the punting ability of departed senior Terrence Brown next fall, but walk-on Grant Schallock – all 6-foot-7, 225 pounds of him – is expected to be an adequate replacement for the Californian.

"We have high expectations for Grant," Davis said. "He's a tall, lanky kid that's got great leg strength and he's got the ability to kick and drive the ball."

Recent signee C.J. Feagles will arrive this summer to provide depth and compete at the position.

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