Thirteen Days In

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina head coach Butch Davis spoke with reporters following Thursday morning's practice session about a variety of topics, including team depth, LSU and Tennessee's decision to back out of next season's matchup.

BUTCH DAVIS
(15:40)

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** Thunderstorms prevented the team from holding its originally scheduled practice on Wednesday evening that was set to include an extensive 30-35 play scrimmage, so Thursday morphed into the first of two consecutive two-a-days for the Tar Heels on Thursday.

The scripted scrimmage occurred roughly 14 hours later than expected, but North Carolina used that scripted session to focus on the continuing training camp theme of building depth. The coaching staff has worked to scrimmage the second- and third-string units as often as possible this preseason, and that plan held true on Thursday, although the backups weren't the only players taking snaps.

"We backed up a couple of the ones that had been starting with the first-team offense, but this is their first year working with the ones – guys like Carl Gaskins," Davis said. "We felt like it was important for him to get a little bit more extended work, so we let him go for a half a dozen or more plays, even though it wasn't his complete group."

** While fans tend to focus on offensive and defensive aspects of football, coaches often steer conversation in the direction of special teams play, an area that falls into the hidden yardage category. Davis is a constant active participant in North Carolina's overlooked third phase of the game, and discussed the need for UNC to improve upon its No. 49 ranking in kickoff return yardage defense (21.1 ypr) in '09.

"We've put a real emphasis on our coverage units, trying to make sure that we've got really talented players [involved] and that we do a good job covering kickoffs and covering punts," Davis said. "On the flip side, we've asked and we'll continue to ask a lot of our starters to make some contributions on special teams just to make sure that we've got really good talented people helping us in some key areas."

Despite the difficulties encountered at the time, North Carolina's offensive line actually benefitted in '09 by having to deal with the adversity that arrived in the form of attrition and injury. The special teams group profited in a similar fashion last fall.

"Because of Ryan Taylor and Matt Merletti being gone, some guys emerged last year," Davis said. "Shane Mularkey was a really good, significant contributor on special teams, and now, he adds to that pool of 15-18-20 guys that you say, ‘These are our core special teams players.' So it's good to get your two captains back, but some other kids got some really good opportunities last year to learn."

** While it would be easy for Davis to claim that he knew years ago that the '10 defense would be stacked with NFL talent, the fourth-year UNC head coach took the humble route in saying that there was really no way to know how good any of these defenders would ultimately become when they were recruited.

"You recruit kids that you think are talented athletes and you put them in a system that you hope gives them a chance to strive," Davis said. "We pride ourselves on having a football team where there's no fear of failure, where kids can push the envelope and find out how good they can be. And then it's a process. How coachable is a kid? How willing is he to listen to the position coaches and to the coordinators? To not just take God's raw given athletic ability and hope it's enticing enough that I'll become a good player.

"All of the guys today currently, or anybody in the future, if they ever aspire to play on the next level, it's going to be a process. There's going to be a lot of hard work, a lot of effort. If you can just count the thousands of hours that Bruce Carter has put into the weight room. Take a look at his body and the changes that he's made the last four years, what he looked like in 2007 and what he looks like today, he's earned everything. But you never really know."

** If there was any doubt that opening weekend is just around the corner, consider that Davis indicated that his program would turn most of its attention to LSU on Monday.

But that's not to say that the Tar Heels haven't already spent time on LSU's offensive and defensive concepts. North Carolina has sporadically focused on the Tigers, as well as Georgia Tech, East Carolina, Clemson and others, dating back to spring practice.

"We did some stuff on all of these teams and didn't necessarily say in practice, ‘This is who we're working on,' but rather, ‘Here are some things that we could conceivably see,'" Davis said. "And we've done that even in the first 10 or 12 practices, but it might have only been one period throughout an entire two-hour practice."

With the availability of defensive tackle Marvin Austin and wide receiver Greg Little still up in the air due to the NCAA investigation, North Carolina may be forced into making a difficult choice before the season opener arrives.

"We'll have to give it some serious consideration and see if there's been any kind of revelation from the NCAA at that particular point, and then we'll make a decision at that time, if we have to," Davis said.

** When asked about Tennessee's decision to back out of the scheduled series with North Carolina in '11 and '12, Davis replied that it "was a shame."

UNC's 2011 schedule included home games against Tennessee, James Madison and Rutgers and a road contest at East Carolina, but now the Tar Heels must act quickly to fill the Volunteers' vacated spot.

"We're talking to and potentially going to have the Minnesota series [and] we're going to have a series with Ohio State," Davis said. "These are all things in 2014, 2015 and 2016 – you're never thinking, ‘Well, we've got to replace somebody in seven months and who's that going to be?' So trying to scramble around at this late date to find anybody that might have an open date, and who might be willing to move a date with somebody."

Davis termed ESPN as a "very valuable partner in this," suggesting that the sports media giant could toss around its weight as it did in establishing this year's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between North Carolina and LSU.

** Position group accolades of the day:

"The most impressive group in the scrimmage this morning was possibly the wide receivers," Davis said. "I really liked what Dwight Jones, Josh Adams, Todd Harrelson and some of those guys did. We gave them some extended playing time."


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