Yates 'A Little Bit Ahead' in QB Battle

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Two weeks into fall camp, head coach Butch Davis said Thursday that senior T.J. Yates currently holds the edge in the quarterback race, albeit a slight one.

"I would say that probably T.J. (Yates) is still slightly a little bit ahead," Davis said. "He has the advantage that you can no way empower Bryn Renner to have, 20-something games of starting experience. But that's why you practice. That's why we're giving Bryn probably a disproportionate number sometimes in scrimmage opportunities, because we can't give him game opportunities."

Even though there are ten starters returning to the offense, the competition there has been fierce, something that applies to the quarterback race and virtually every single spot on that side of the ball.

"We've got competition going at almost every spot on this team, especially on the offense," Yates said. "It has raised the level of intensity a whole bunch. As a whole team, and especially as an offense, guys are competing every single day, several different guys taking reps with the 1's, competing at the highest levels."

Competition is coming at a variety of different levels, including wide receiver. Though Greg Little (provided he clears any NCAA eligibility hurdles) and Erik Highsmith are penciled in as the starters, the fight for playing time is particularly fierce.

"I think 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, some of those guys, really did. We gave them some extended playing time."

In what area can receivers make the most progress from year one to year two? According to T.J. Yates, physical toughness is where the UNC youngsters have made the most progress.

"The 50/50 balls, when both the DB and the receiver have a shot at the ball, our guys are starting to come down with it a lot more," Yates said. "We're competing, we're being extremely physical at the wide receiver spot more than I've ever seen before since I've been here, we're being so much more physical with the DB's and just going up and getting those balls.

"Route-running comes easier for young receivers to pick up), the physical part, the bump coverage, using the hand technique – all that type of stuff, and kind of being physical with it. Because you can run routes out there all the time, but when those guys get up on you and they're in your face, and they're bumping you and hitting you and stuff, running the routes against bump and run coverage -- which a lot of people are doing these days, and which LSU is going to do a lot -- I think that is the main thing where these guys have taken a step forward."

At an earlier point in his career, Yates had receivers in whom he reposed a great amount of trust - trust that when they had to contest the defensive back for possession of the ball, they'd win those battles. His trust in this group of UNC wide receivers is beginning to grow.

"When those guys make those catches in practice it makes it much easier to throw the next ball to them," Yates said. "It gives you confidence while you're dropping back that they're going to be open, even if they might not be open when you throw the ball and there is a good chance they're going to come down with the ball – that does so much for the quarterback's confidence when they are dropping back and throwing the ball."

When asked whether his head coach deliberately placed the starting quarterback spot up for grabs to inspire his best effort, Yates said, "If he did, it definitely worked. I've worked harder than I ever have while I've been here."

Since the Tar Heels will begin to prepare for LSU on Monday, the decision on the starter's job at quarterback may be made this weekend.

"I love the competition and I like the state of where it is right now," Davis said.

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