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August 24, 2010Classes start for the fall semester Tuesday at UNC-Chapel Hill, and while the Tar Heel players have the day off from football activities, they've started a typical weekly routine and have effectively broken from training camp.
"This is our first opportunity to get into a regular school routine," said UNC head coach Butch Davis. "We put it on the same calendar schedule that we would do in a normal regular school week."
"We had special teams meetings at 2:10, position meetings at 2:30 and we'll practice in the afternoon at 3:30. This is the way we'll practice for the remainder of the week."
Saturday scrimmage's was the second in as many weekends for the Tar Heels, and it again served as a good opportunity for the coaches to get a lot of players repetitions.
"It (the scrimmage) was pretty good," said Davis. "The biggest emphasis in the scrimmage on Saturday was really geared predominantly to try to build some depth on the team. The second team probably had 20 to 22 scrimmage plays. The 'three's had probably 20 to 25. The 'ones' probably got about 12 to 15."
While most of the starters that will be expected to be on the field all the time on game days got some rest, some other starters who haven't played as much got extra work.
"We did ask some of the 'ones'---and this is kind of what we had done in previous scrimmages---take some of the 'ones' that don't have very much experience, the Carl Gaskins---guys that missed all of last season---we asked them to maybe take a little bit of scrimmage opportunities with the 'twos', just so that they would get more experience and stuff, and I think that was good," Davis said.
"We also did it with some of the receivers---Joshua Adams, Dwight Jones, Todd Harrelson and those kinds of guys---and asked them to go the entire day."
"The guys that we kind of took out were the Quan Sturdivants and the Bruce Carters and the Alan Pelcs---guys that have gotten 20, 30 games of starting experience. We kind of grandfathered them (out). After they did their eight or 10 plays we kind of put them on the sidelines," Davis continued.
Following Saturday's workout Davis said the coaches have a clearer picture than ever of who will be taking the field with the starting units in the season opener against LSU in 11 days.
"I think what we have found, we're pretty close obviously (the starters)," he said. "I think that if we were playing Saturday, we have a pretty good idea as to who the starting 11 is on both sides of the ball."
As Davis indicated, the scrimmage was all about finding other guys not in the starting lineup that could feasibly play and to get them as much work as possible.
One key area where depth was a major concern last year was along the offensive line, but Davis says the team is much better off today than they were last August.
"What this has done is that this has allowed us---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 when he goes in there," Davis said.
"We have high expectations that not 'Can he do the job?' or 'Will he do the job?'
"We believe that he can."
"Whether its James Hurst going in and playing---there's certainly evidence that he's going to play---hopefully we'll have seven or eight guys in the offensive line that we trust enough that we feel good enough to go in," Davis added.
Among the linebackers Zach Brown, who saw some time starting last season before Kevin Reddick emerged and allowed Sturdivant to move back to the outside, has once again shown the coaches he's worthy of consideration to play heavily.
"I think certainly 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. It will help Quan stay fresh and it will get him on the field," Davis said.
Another UNC player who formally started who is getting a major opportunity to rise up the depth chart is Johnny White, the fifth-year senior who finishes his Tar Heel career the same place it began at running back.
"I don't think there's any question in some respects you feel a little sorry for Johnny, because he's such a great kid and he's such a hard worker. Where are you going to play this guy?" Davis said. "We've tried him at slot receiver, wide receiver. We've tried him at running back."
"He got thrust into the role last year the second half the season with injuries to go back to the running back position. He didn't have a spring practice there, he didn't have training camp there, he didn't have the first half of the season and he was just thrust into that role, and I thought he did okay."
"I think he's done remarkably well with the idea that 'That's my position' and how I can best help this football team is to be a full-time running back," Davis added. "Hopefully it will keep us where we've got a good, fresh running back in the game at all times."
While building depth has been one of the primary goals of this August for the Tar Heels, Davis said another key area of development for this team was improving its turnover ratio and its time of possession numbers.
"I think obviously you don't want to turn the football over," he said. "One of the things that has limited our time of possessions is when you turn the ball over, the other team has the ball."
"I think that we've got to be more effective and more efficient certainly on first down and on third downs."
"The Achilles Heel of all offenses---and I think you'd have to put us in that exact same category---is that if you stay in very difficult third down situations it's awfully hard to maintain possessions. You're going to have a lot of 'three and outs.'" Davis continued.
It's going to be crucial this fall that the Tar Heels find success on early downs and chip away at opposing defenses so they're not facing so many unmanageable situations on third down where teams can set themselves up to potentially force a turnover.
"If you're always looking at third down and 7 to 12, those are hard to convert. But if you can in the third downs to 1's to 5's and 6's, you've got a better chance of upping that," Davis said.
"That's one of the big things is that we've had way too many three-and-outs in the games. I think we averaged almost three 'three and outs' per game."
"If you're only going to get 12 or 13 possessions in a ball game, you certainly want to maximize those possessions. Even if they don't result in scores, more first downs will certainly result in better field position," he added.
Davis finished his pre-practice discussion Monday by touching briefly on Greg Little and Marvin Austin's respective statuses for the season opener.
While Davis didn't provide any new details regarding the situation and whether they'll be available, he reiterated the coaching staff's motive to be prepared for any and all potential scenarios so there's no surprises when UNC gets to Atlanta.
"You absolutely have to be prepared for the possibility that kids can play and kids can't play, and I think that we've pretty much tried to address that throughout the entire training camp," he said.
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