The Midway Point

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It may sound odd that North Carolina's next Saturday kickoff is not until Nov. 7, but that's what happens when you factor in a bye week and back-to-back Thursday night ball games. Butch Davis addressed the media prior to Wednesday's practice as his Tar Heels prepare for the second half of the season.

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Butch Davis Pre-Practice
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** With the news that freshmen running backs A.J. Blue (knee) and Jamal Womble (wrist) are scheduled for surgeries on Friday, a deep stable in the offensive backfield took a harsh blow. True freshman Hunter Furr (six yards on three carries) took snaps in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 42-12 victory over Georgia Southern, but the discussion surrounding the No. 3 spot on the depth chart behind Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston will also include two former backs currently in other offensive roles.

"We're going to investigate both of those possibilities," Davis said. "[Fullback] Anthony [Elzy] and [wide receiver] Johnny White have both played running back before and are very familiar with the offense. We'll see which of those three combinations make the most sense."

** Ten of North Carolina's 13 players listed on last Thursday's injury report hailed from the offensive side of the ball. Factor in Blue and Womble and that number swells to 12, which includes every position group except for wide receiver.

The Tar Heels' lack of able bodies ultimately compounds the problem.

"Sometimes it's not surprising that depth plays a somewhat significant role in the health of your football team," Davis said. "When you're paper thin at whatever the position is, those guys are sometimes doing more work, taking more reps, they're exposed more and they're playing more plays. They don't get a chance to rest as much as some of the other guys. It puts them sometimes a little bit more at risk.

"That's why the older and more experienced your football team is in Years 4-5-6-7-8-9, you're able to minimize some of that stuff."

One phase that suffered dearly in ‘07 due to lack of depth was special teams, and the coaching staff is executing a balancing act to make sure those issues don't resurface in '09.

"We've got to walk a fine edge in the second half of the season to make sure that the quality of the kids that are playing on special teams is still good enough for us to win the games," Davis said.

** While North Carolina may be halfway through its season, it's no time to look back and reflect on what could have been. This coaching staff is focused solely on improving and moving forward.

"Your team has got to continue to grow," Davis said. "Hopefully some of the younger kids that have been playing on offense will now, for the second half of the season, have at least the benefit of a couple of games under their belt, or at least some opportunities to play in games. And see them play with maybe a little bit more comfort, a little bit more confidence [and] a little bit more consistency.

"Defensively, I think we've got to continue to push the envelope. You would like for them to continue to be able to create turnovers."

** The benefit of a bye prior to a Thursday night game is that game week preparations are essentially unaffected, aside from having to remember which days morph into others.

For example, North Carolina's traditional schedule includes practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. But with game day being moved up two days, Tuesday becomes Sunday, Wednesday becomes Monday and Thursday becomes Tuesday. Confused yet?

This week, however, will be spent on fundamentals with a eye turned to Florida State.

"The first set of those [practices] is going to be somewhat abbreviated because we've got to familiarize ourselves with Florida State," Davis said. "We may cut 30 minutes out of each practice on the field and spend an extra 30 minutes in the film rooms just watching tape. And then certainly next week, we'll get a little more focused because we'll have a better appreciation for what Florida State can do."

** Left guard Jonathan Cooper has contended with an ankle sprain ever since the season opener against The Citadel, but the Tar Heels are hoping that his return to the starting lineup last Saturday began the stabilization process for this embattled offensive line.

"Certainly, he's a good football player, so there's that part of it," Davis said. "He's physical. He's athletic. He earned the starting job because at that time he was the best player. And I think him being inserted back into it kind of stabilized that group a little bit. He and Kyle [Jolly] only played the first quarter-and-a-half and hopefully they can take that and build on it."

** Dwight Jones' resume is littered with setbacks and injuries while boasting minimal production since graduating from Burlington (N.C.) Cummings High School three years ago. But the sophomore wide receiver exudes potential and his recovery process from a early-season knee scope is quickly nearing an end.

"Every week you can see him get a little bit quicker, a little bit stronger [and] a little bit faster," Davis said. "People sometimes underestimate – a medical issue like that is one thing, but the psychology of it is a totally different thing. It's you learning to re-trust your body and to re-trust that the surgery is going to be okay and that you're not going to injure it again. I think everybody goes through that. I think the more that he has been able to play and get into the games, he's working through that the more that he practices."

** While players and fans alike are already hyping next week's Thursday night showdown against Florida State, that game may as well as be next February for the head coach.

"It's way too early to even think about that right now," Davis said. "There's a lot of work to do between now and next Thursday."


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