Starting Lineup Nearly Finalized

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina is only 12 days and nine practices away from its season-opening matchup with LSU in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. The primary benefit of returning 18 starters is that the first unit has remained virtually unchanged, and those few open spots have essentially already been secured.

BUTCH DAVIS
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"We're pretty close, obviously," UNC head coach Butch Davis told reporters before Monday's practice when asked if his starting lineup was set. "I think that if we were playing Saturday, we have a pretty good idea as to who the starting 11 [would be] on both sides of the ball."

North Carolina released its preseason depth chart in late July, and the handful of changes that have occurred over the past three weeks is primarily due to the NCAA investigation. With defensive tackle Marvin Austin and wide receiver Greg Little's availability for the season still undetermined, the first-team locks have been relegated to the second unit for significant portions of training camp.

Expected starting defensive end Quinton Coples has assumed Austin's role on the interior of the defensive line, while backup defensive end Michael McAdoo has stepped into Coples' starting spot. On the other side of the ball, wide receivers Jhay Boyd and Dwight Jones have both filled in for Little during his time with the second string.

The Tar Heel theme this preseason has focused on building depth behind the starting lineup, and those efforts have apparently paid off 17 days into camp.

"Even though we think there's still some good competition at some of the positions, it's proven to us that if you stick a Brennan Williams in at right tackle for three or four possessions during the course of the game, he's going to perform and play well," Davis said.

In other words, there are no longer questions as to whether Williams or freshman left tackle James Hurst can do the job or not coming off the bench. Davis indicated that both players have earned the right to play by working hard and gaining the coaching staff's trust. Currently, the expectation is that UNC will have a seven-to-eight man rotation on the offensive line.

That quality starter-like depth extends beyond the big uglies up front.

"There's probably six or seven guys that we feel good about them going in the game," Davis said.

Running backs Ryan Houston and Johnny White factor into that equation, as well as McAdoo on the defensive line, and there's another player in the second line of defense that has turned vast potential into steady production.

"I think guys like Zach Brown, although he's playing behind Quan Sturdivant, he is a talented and gifted enough player that he needs to play in games," Davis said. "It will help Quan stay fresh and it will get him on the field."

Before the NCAA investigation took center stage this summer, the quarterback battle between fifth-year senior T.J. Yates and red-shirt freshman Bryn Renner garnered most of the media attention. But while the veteran incumbent has consistently maintained his lead over his highly-touted challenger, Renner's efforts in camp have included him in the mix of players that will likely see playing time this fall.

"Clearly, as I said the other day, T.J. Yates is still the starting quarterback," Davis said. "And I think that he's done a very, very good job. I think that Bryn has pushed him and Bryn has earned the respect… You might put Bryn Renner in the same category as you would Brennan Williams and some of those other guys – that it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that he could certainly play in the first game."

Regarding Renner, Davis indicated that the offensive coaching staff will not follow a set plan in determining the red-shirt freshman's potential playing time, but rather will let the flow of the game make that decision.

"Obviously, it would be nice to be able to have the opportunity to stick him in where there are comfortable situations," Davis said. "But none of us have a crystal ball. You don't have any idea how the health of the team is going to be [and] you don't know how games are going to unfold, so basically you just have to prepare the best that you can and if opportunities present themselves, you want to certainly give him those opportunities."

North Carolina shifted to its normal school week schedule with classes starting on Tuesday. Monday marked the first day that the Tar Heels devoted 75-80 percent of their practice time to LSU.



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