Ten Practices Down

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina head coach Butch Davis met with reporters prior to Wednesday's practice to discuss how the first 16 days of spring ball have gone as the Spring Game is less than two weeks away.

** There is plenty of hype surrounding the Tar Heel football program these days, thanks to 19 returning starters from '09 squad that posted an 8-5 record. But before anyone decides to hand out awards before the season even starts, Davis offered these words of warning on Wednesday.

"We're still a long ways from being a finished product," the fourth-year UNC head coach said.

On the offensive side of the ball, the wide receivers need to shed their youth label and deliver on a consistent basis, and the line needs to continue its rebuilding process that began last season.

"We've got an awful lot of work to do in the offensive line," Davis said. "Not only from the standpoint of getting some kids healthy and well, but just from an experience standpoint… We're a far cry from where we need to be certainly even to start next season."

Defensively, the one position group that has the most glaring concerns is linebacker. Granted, when Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter are locked in as starters, there can't be too much concern, but this spring's emphasis has been on building legitimate depth.

There are some issues on the defensive side," Davis said. "We've got to find some guys that can play at linebacker. We've given an awful lot of work to guys like Dion Guy, Ebele Okakpu, Kevin Reddick, Zach Brown – some of the younger linebackers. They've got to come on. They've got to become disciplined players. They've got to become smart players. They've got to really understand how to go into the games and be able to play like our backup defensive linemen have been able to do."

** While the factoid about 19 returning starters might lead you to believe that there is minimal competition taking place for starting positions, that thought would be wrong.

Davis pointed to five position groups where intense battles are taking place for any available playing time – tight end, offensive line, running back, wide receiver and middle linebacker.

Nelson Hurst is pushing Ed Barham at the true tight end spot, Cam Holland and Greg Elleby are challenging for starting roles at center and left guard, respectively, and Anthony Elzy is trying to reclaim his starting position from Devon Ramsay at fullback. Greg Little is the only wide receiver that has nailed down a spot with the first unit, and the aforementioned Reddick is defending his turf in the middle of the defense.

"There's still a lot of jobs that won't be determined until probably the beginning of training camp," Davis said.

** Some signs of this program's growth are evident; other signs only materialize when you peel back the layers. One such detail came to light on Wednesday when Davis was asked about any potential position moves.

"I think we're past the point of flipping guys over from offense to defense, and vice versa," the head coach said. "I think Greg Elleby was probably the last guy that we've flipped from one side to the other."

** That's not to say that Davis has his program where he wants it quite yet. The difference between elite programs and average-to-good programs occurs not in the starting lineup, but further down the depth chart. The benefits of a talent abundance goes beyond surviving injuries.

"There are a lot more scrimmage things that you would like to be able to do that you just can't do," Davis said. "You just don't have the depth to be able to go out and have 2-3-4 really significant 60-70 play scrimmages and that's what some of the young players really need. For them to be able to play the game, they need to be in live situations.

"You can script 7-on-7 and inside runs and team periods and guys can look really good, but when you take the reins off and the coaches have to get off the field and out of the huddles, that's when you find out who can really play."

** With scrimmages being kept to a minimum, the coaching staff has to grade and judge their players by other methods than live action performance. Davis shared two constants that his coaches are always looking for on the practice fields.

"You want guys to execute and know what to do," he said. "Mentally, if you don't know what to do, there's no chance that we're going to ever trust you enough to put you in a game. Secondly, there's effort. Are you giving us 100 percent effort? Do your teammates and your coaching staff see you practicing at such a tempo that there's no doubt that you deserve a chance to play?"

** Davis hasn't been shy about heaping praise on his senior standout at wide receiver this offseason. Little has been built up by his head coach since the end of the '09 season, and that trend continues to build hype for the 6-foot-3, 215-pound from Durham, N.C.

"I don't know that I've ever been around a receiver, including all of the kids that I coached at Miami, where he went from an uncertainty as a proven receiver to one of the most dependable guys," Davis said. "The last three or four games of the season he was playing at an extremely high level."


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