Preparing for Kickoff

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Head coach Butch Davis spoke to reporters prior to Wednesday's practice, as North Carolina prepares for its season opener against The Citadel on Saturday afternoon.

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Butch Davis Pre-Practice
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* The NCAA decided this offseason to change rules on an every-other-year basis, in an effort to cut down on the continuous stream of new rules and regulations that have saturated college football over the past decade. This season marks the first year in the revolving two-season window, and one of the biggest changes for 2009 is that the tackle box is now defined as five yards from the football.

The old rule assumed the tackle box to be the outside shoulders of the left and right tackles. But with spread offenses emerging from seemingly every distant corner of the map, variations of that scheme include offensive line splits that are double what a typical pro-style offense's split might be. In other words, while UNC's offensive guard may line up within inches from the center in what is known as a tight split, West Virginia's guard may be several feet away from the center in what is known as a wide split.

North Carolina consistently uses ACC officials during practice, and Davis spent one meeting session several weeks ago on having the referees explain the new rules to the players and how they will be interpreted.

"I think that it is a big deal," Davis said. "… The clarity that they said is that it's going to be defined as five yards from the football. So if you've got six guys inside of five yards or you've got two guys inside of five yards, it's five yards. That will help to define crack-backs, blocks below the waist, where the tackle box is when quarterback gets outside. Can he throw the ball to avoid being sacked? So now you've just got to trust that they've got a good concept in their mind as to what is five yards from the original snap of the ball."

* Mark Paschal played in over 40 games during his Tar Heel career, and the new Inside Carolina analyst was critical in providing leadership from his middle linebacker position during Davis' first two seasons in Chapel Hill. The new man in the middle is Quan Sturdivant, who has long since praised Paschal for helping to pull him along as he learned the ins and outs of UNC's defensive approach.

"The whole design behind moving [Sturdivant] there was to get somebody in the middle that has got [experience]," Davis said. "I think Quan has now been in 25 games, so that will help solidify all of the calls and the formations and setting strengths and stuff. He was probably the most prepared because he did it when Mark got injured last year against Duke."

* The Tar Heels were able to take advantage of some much-needed downtime when training camp officially came to a close last week, and responded with what Davis labeled a "spirited" practice on Tuesday – the first game week practice of the season.

"I think they're starting to get their legs back," Davis said. "They're a little bit fresher football team right now because Saturday was a relatively light mock game, and it only lasted for about 90 minutes, so they had a lot of time Saturday and Sunday off. And Monday was their day off, so they had a pretty good stretch of time to get their legs and get excited about the game."

* When Saturday night's season opener against The Citadel is complete, the UNC coaching staff will finally have some actual data to sit down and dissect on Sunday morning. But to think the answers that appear while viewing the game film are anything close to an absolute would be completely wrong.

"There's three or four major critical things that it won't answer completely because it's a work in progress," said Davis, highlighting the offensive line, wide receivers and punting unit. "They're not going to be as good on Saturday as we're hoping they will be on the following Saturday. But it will give us our first glimpse as to how the guys play when the lights come on. Some guys actually play better than they practice, and so hopefully some guys will emerge and they'll let the head coach sleep a little bit."

* Red-shirt sophomore Mike Paulus took plenty of heat last season when he was thrust into the starting role at quarterback following T.J. Yates' ankle injury against Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels built a 17-3 lead after the Syracuse, N.Y. native's first possession under center, but the offense failed to gain traction as the Hokies stormed back for a 20-17 victory.

It's been easy for some North Carolina fans to write off Paulus, but it's important to note that he was merely a 19-year-old seeing his first collegiate action against a team that would go on to win the ACC Championship and the Orange Bowl. Davis was asked on Wednesday about his sophomore's development.

"This is what I would hope Mike would think about himself – that he's a better football player than he was at this time a year ago," Davis said. "That he had a solid and productive spring practice [and] that he's done some good things this fall. It's always difficult when you're not the starting quarterback. You just don't get as many chances to practice and to play. And I hope that if there is one lesson that he learned along with Braden [Hanson], it's the Cam Sexton story."


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