The Move to Man Coverage

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – One reason that No. 18 North Carolina's defense currently ranks in the top-10 nationally is the coaching staff's decision to use more man coverage schemes in '09. Butch Davis discussed that change, the punting situation, as well as other topics.

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Butch Davis Pre-Practice

** After receiving an offseason heaping of criticism for his "prevent" defensive schemes in '08, the only noise that defensive coordinator Everett Withers has heard through three games this fall has been applause.

Gone are the soft zone coverages and in their place are aggressive front-seven calls with man coverage in the secondary. The reason is simple – Withers is finally comfortable in placing that much responsibility on his defensive backs.

"He told us, ‘I feel like you've learned a lot and you're more confident in yourself to play man-to-man,'" backup safety Melvin Williams said on Wednesday. "That's been the biggest thing this year. He said from the get-go of camp that he wanted to play a lot of man-to-man. He wanted to let us play, and we've wanted to do that since last year."

After working extensively on the technique and execution involved with man coverage in spring ball, Withers took the gloves off against East Carolina last weekend.

"[Withers] said, ‘We're going to let the defensive line and linebackers go get them, so let's man up,'" Williams said.

But Davis quickly pointed out on Wednesday that the defense's man coverage utilization is still south of 50 percent of plays called.

"Different game plans call for you to do different things – different receivers, different schemes, how they try to use the receivers, how you match up," Davis said. "Sometimes you're better off defending them in zone [and] sometimes you're better off trying to defend them in man concepts.

"You would love to have the ability to play as much man as you want to play when you want to play it, and that's something that I think we're getting better at… We played very little man in 2007 and we played a little bit last year. But as the team gets better and as the team grows, you hopefully have the ability to play it whenever you want."

** Speaking of Melvin Williams – the safety began his senior season as the starting nickel back against The Citadel. But after film evaluation, Withers felt that Williams excelled more on the hash during his play at safety. And when factoring in starting strong safety Da'Norris Searcy's experience in the Meineke Car Care Bowl at nickel back, the two players switched their roles in nickel sets prior to the Connecticut victory.

** In North Carolina's 31-17 victory over East Carolina, the Pirates managed a plus-12 yard benefit in average field position (38-yard-line vs. 26-yard-line). The primary reason for the discrepancy fell to the punters, as ECU's Matt Dodge averaged 48.8 yards per kick on five attempts, including three that were downed inside the 20, while UNC's Grant Schallock averaged 31.2 yards on four attempts.

As a team living on a tenacious defense, the Tar Heels can ill-afford to consistently lose the "hidden yardage" battle, as they have done in all three games this season.

"I think [Schallock] knows that he needs to punt better," Davis said. "He's got to be a lot more consistent. It's something that we're concerned about."

The Webster, N.C. junior is averaging 37.8 yards on 13 punts this season and has pinned the opponent inside the 20-yard-line just once. His one kick that broke the 50-yard barrier (a 52-yarder against The Citadel) resulted in a touchback.

Freshman punter C.J. Feagles warmed up during the second half against East Carolina, but he did not see any action. The third-year UNC head coach discussed his backup punter's capabilities on Wednesday.

"His mechanics are good," Davis said. "Clearly, he's got a strong leg… Like all incoming high school kids, one of the biggest and most dramatic adjustments for them is how fast you have to get the ball off. In high school, people don't work a lot on blocks and so sometimes you can be a three-step kicker or take 2.5 seconds to get it off, and none of that stuff flies in college football.

"But his father [Jeff] has trained him really well and he's gone to a lot of kicking camps. So he was probably ahead of the curve coming in here, because he was a good two-step kicker. Most of his get-offs are under 2.1, which is clearly acceptable. We'd like for it to be a 2.0, but 2.1 is good enough."

** Davis gave Tar Heels fans some hope on Monday that H-back Ryan Taylor was close to returning to practice, but it looks as though the Winston-Salem, N.C. native is still a week away from joining his teammates at Navy Fields.

"He's not practicing this week," Davis said. "He is running at a higher level. He's starting to cut and stuff. I wish that there was a crystal ball where I could tell you, ‘Well, it's going to be two weeks from now' or whatever, but every week he makes strides. He's training hard. He's squatting in the weight room. He's doing full body workouts.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see him maybe return to practice next week, maybe on a limited basis or maybe even more than a limited basis."

** Three different Tar Heels completed passes during Saturday's win over East Carolina, including tailback Shaun Draughn and "Diesel" quarterback A.J. Blue. You can add that pair to a list that already boasts Brandon Tate and Bobby Rome in completing a pass as part of a trick play for North Carolina.

Offensive coordinator John Shoop's "mad scientist" notebook is apparently full of odds and ends ready to throw at opposing defenses.

"We have that kind of stuff prepared every week," Davis said. "We had it in earlier games, but anytime that you want to do unusual things, the situation has got to be right. Obviously against The Citadel, the score was such that you don't want to use them. But we practice those things all of the time."

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