Preseason Roundtable, Part III

Inside Carolina counts down to the start of training camp on Friday by analyzing the key preseason topics ...

Roundtable participants: Don Callahan, Mark Paschal, Greg Barnes and Buck Sanders. Paschal, who was a standout linebacker for the Tar Heels last year, is joining the IC staff this season and will provide weekly analysis on the site as well as co-hosting the Inside Carolina Call-In postgame show. Stay tuned for more details.)

It has been some time since UNC was as settled at running back going into a season. With Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston forming a very capable one-two punch in 2008, do you see a continuation of the same, or will Jamal Womble begin stealing some of their carries during fall camp?

Mark: This is the best running back situation UNC has seen in quite some time. Draughn is quick, powerful, elusive and a downright competitor. I remember a time when some people thought he would never play a down at UNC, but believe me, he is the real deal. Look for us to rely heavily on his legs for early season success until our passing game comes along. A true game day competitor, Draughn will be the first 1,000-yard back this century for the Heels. Houston will get the short yardage carries and score more touchdowns, but this is going to be Draughn's year. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if Womble found his way into five to eight carries a game for a little different change of pace.

Don: Seeing what Womble did in the spring game, and knowing what he's capable of, I can see him easily getting on the field with the starters at some point. Also, Draughn needs to prove he's put the "fumblitis" behind him.

Greg: I don't doubt that Womble will be given the opportunity to move up the depth chart during training camp, but what people have to remember is that Draughn played the '08 season with minimal exposure at running back before the season opener – the red-shirt sophomore had been working as a backup safety during the previous spring practice. As such, this will be his first season of knowing what's expected from him, and I fully anticipate this staff giving Draughn ample opportunity in August to prove that the starting position is rightfully his – or not.

Buck: It would almost feel weird if Shaun Draughn went wire-to-wire as the starter. In Davis's first year, it was running back by committee with Johnny White and Anthony Elzy and Greg Little starting at the end of the year, then last year Draughn seized the job from Little about four games. in Even before Davis's arrival, when was the last time a UNC running back went wire-to-wire as the starter? Barring injury, however, I think we'll see a steady diet of the Draughn/Houston combo, with Houston coming in on short-yardage situations. While Womble will get some carries, and around five per game sounds about right unless the outcome has been decided, Draughn will be the workhorse next year.

Switching to the other side of the ball, there don't appear to be nearly as many questions defensively. Zach Brown has gotten some preseason pub for his speed and athleticism, but is he ready to step in at weak side linebacker from a football standpoint? How can we judge his progress during the fall?

Don: Whether he is ready or not, Brown is the type to learn better "under fire" – just like Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant did. In the fall, we have to see Brown make plays with his brain, instead of his athleticism. We know he can chase down a ‘back from behind and blow up screens with his speed. We need to see him read and diagnose plays and not bite on fakes.

Greg: The best thing that happened to Brown was his ability to play on special teams and in small doses at linebacker in ‘08 – a luxury that fellow starters Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter did not have as freshmen in '07. The true sophomore already has a taste of the speed and intensity of collegiate football, and that allows for an immense amount of confidence in a young player. For the first time in the Butch Davis era, there are an adequate number of bodies at the linebacker spot, all brimming with potential and talent. If Brown is meeting the coaching staff's expectations during the season, you will be able to tell by the number of snaps he plays with each passing game.

Zach Brown
Mark: Zach has outstanding speed. That speed alone will help make up for a lot of his initial confusion in that opening game. Playing college football slows down for a player as they get more and more experience. Zach will make mistakes, just like any new starter or player. His athletic talent will help him make up for some of those mistakes so they aren't as glaring, but if he wants to become a big time player, time in the film room and extra work with coaches will go a long way and help shorten the learning curve. If we see Zach still playing 75 to 80 plays at the end of game 3 or 4, it will tell you a lot about the coaches' trust in him and that he is improving and learning all aspects of the game.

Buck: It is good to have this kind of problem, instead of having to replace two or three linebackers. Brown will be lining up on the weak side, where he can use his speed to snare running backs that cut back, and to cover backs in the passing game. The thing to watch early is whether Brown is disciplined in his coverage assignments, and understands and executes his cover responsibilities on the weak side. Offensive coordinators love to exploit weak side linebackers with passes to speedy backs, but with Brown's speed, it will be tough to create mismatches there. The only way Brown can be a liability will be if he blows coverage assignments. If a running back gets the ball in space while the weak side backer is out of position, it might be a while before another player can make the tackle.

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