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April 23, 2011North Carolina head coach Butch Davis spoke a final time this week about UNC's spring season, as he provided an overall breakdown of the team in the Atlantic Coast Conference's annual spring teleconference.
"Obviously this spring was dramatically different than spring a year ago where we had a significant number of returning starters, a lot of guys that had been in the program for many years with an awful lot of experience," said Davis.
"This spring was more about going back to basics and to fundamentals because of a tremendous number of young players at a lot of positions."
"You know, our coaching staff felt like we did accomplish some good things during spring practice, but we're clearly a long ways away from where we need to be and where we certainly would want to be," Davis added.
Davis indicated that the Tar Heel offensive and defensive lines were the areas where he feels the team grew the most during the spring season.
"I think that probably areas that we felt that we developed not only some good cohesiveness but some depth, were the offensive line and the defensive line. I think that's certainly a by-product of four years of recruiting and being able to develop some consistency and continuity in those particular areas."
Davis spoke in general about the fact that the Tar Heels have an experienced and deep group of wide receivers but have big holes to fill at quarterback and running back.
"We're like any program that's making a transition from a prior existing starting quarterback that basically had been the starter for four years, and we're going into uncharted territory with a group of four young quarterbacks who have never played any significant amount of time in college," he said.
"But like all programs, we've got to develop some depth there. Braden Hanson, A.J. Blue and Marquise Williams are three other young quarterbacks that we've got to develop those guys. We've got to be able to have at least two quarterbacks that we feel like can go into games and we feel like we can win with."
"We have a little bit of an experienced receiving corps, offensively," Davis continued.
"We had no seniors on the team last year at wide receiver, so all of those guys return, and I think that that provides us with some good depth and certainly some good competition for playing time."
"We're in kind of uncharted territory at running back. We've lost Anthony Elzy, Johnny White and Shaun Draughn, and those three guys probably took 95 percent of the playing reps over the previous four seasons, and so we're going through some trials and experimentation with some young running backs, and I think that that clearly will not be settled until we get into training camp."
Asked to speak in more detail about running backs, Davis talked about his philosophy of having two or more dependable running back options on gameday.
"I think you have to have a stable of running backs to be honest with you," he said. "I don't know that I even want to have one guy that you say this guy is going to take 95 percent of the reps. I think it's a detriment to the kid."
"The most successful offenses that I had at the University of Miami were built around the idea that in almost every single game you were playing two for sure and maybe even sometimes a third running back, whether it was the Clinton Portis, Najeh Davenport, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, all those guys."
"If you're going to have 75 to 85 snaps on offense and you're going to run the ball 45 of those times, there's plenty enough work to get two really quality players a lot and maybe a third one if he's got some unique, special skills as a 3rd down player out of the backfield catching the ball or maybe a short yardage go-line guy. Who knows?"
"But we've got to have more than one running back, and we've got an awful lot of unproven guys," Davis continued.
"Hunter Furr got a brief little exposure last year at the end of the game in the fourth quarter against Florida State and a little tiny bit in the Tennessee game, in the bowl game."
"Ryan Houston comes back from being declared eligible but subsequently redshirting last year, so he's the most experienced veteran group of that group of people, and then we've got a lot of freshmen players that we've got to figure out -- redshirt freshmen, what roles they can play to help us."
Switching over to the defensive side of the ball, Davis spoke about the need for the Tar Heels to replace several players at linebacker and in the secondary and which players are strong candidates to fill those roles.
"On the defensive side of the ball, I think we've got some talented first-line linebackers in Zach Brown and Kevin Reddick, but I think that clearly we've got to find a third starting linebacker. Darius Lipford is a potential possibility, Ebele Okakpu, Dion Guy, and we clearly have got to find some depth."
"We've got to find a good backup unit, and that may not come until next year's incoming freshmen get to camp here in August.""
One of those players coming in August, Travis Hughes, has a chance to certainly make an immediate impact.
"Yeah, I don't think there's any question that we have talked long and hard about what roles Travis could play," Davis said.
"I think the one fortunate thing is that Travis is physically gifted enough that he could play any of the three positions. He could be a 'Sam' and a 'Will' on the outside. He could certainly be a 'Mike', he could be a 'Mike Nickel' linebacker, and there's no question that we're going to count on him to be able to come in and play, put him on the fast track to find out how much of a game plan can he absorb and how quickly can he catch up."
In Davis's first season at UNC back in 2007, the Tar Heels had two players in similar situations as Hughes---gifted young talents at a time when Carolina needed somebody to step up and make huge impacts at linebacker.
It worked out for those two guys, who are about to become wealthy men playing professional football.
"Four years ago Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant came into the program as guys that were thrust into the role as starters early in their freshman career, and it worked out very well for them," Davis said.
"Travis could potentially fall into that category, but we've got to develop some depth."
"I mean, we've got to be able to play---ideally we like the idea of playing six linebackers in almost every game, and whether they're starters or whether they're significant second-team players that may play 30, 35 plays in a game. That's a big challenge for this football team this summer and going into the season," Davis continued.
Getting into the secondary, Davis touched on just how much production the Tar Heels are losing, and with multiple players such as Terry Shankle, Brendon Felder, and others out at cornerback, the depth at these positions were questionable during the spring.
"The secondary probably took one of the biggest hits of the football team by losing Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams, two guys that had basically started for four years and Da'Norris Searcy, who was an unbelievably talented player in special teams and the secondary, so the whole secondary has got to be rebuilt, and that certainly will be a work in progress," Davis said.
"Well, I think our depth is questionable to be honest with you," he added.
"We did have some players that played last year, they played before they were ready, probably before they even really deserved to play, but out of necessity they stepped in and did some good things."
"But we've had some injuries, guys have had surgery, off-season surgery, so we've got to get some guys well, and we've got to continue to grow and build those guys."
"But I like the attitude of the team. I like that they've worked very hard, but we've still got an awful lot of area to cover over the summer and certainly during training camp," he continued.
Davis concluded the ACC teleconference by touching on a topic that's popular around the region---conference alignment.
When asked about the way the league's teams are broken down differently than the geographic arrangement currently in place in leagues like the SEC and Big 12, Davis said it was something he didn't give a whole lot of thought about.
"That's pretty much -- I mean, it's the way the SEC is broken down into an east and west, and at one time the Big 12 was a north and a south concept," he said.
"I know that the Pac-10 as they've expanded, I don't think that they're going into separate divisions, but I think that the Big Ten as they've expanded and absorbed Nebraska, they're going to break up into separate divisions."
"I wasn't here (at UNC) when they decided (conference alignment)," Davis continued.
"I understand the concept of having the one natural rivalry in the other division that you carry all the time and you rotate the other schools. I don't know, I mean, it's -- I'm sure when they sat down and they tried to come up with the concept, I haven't heard anybody even arguing about it. It's never been mentioned at any of our meetings that it's unfairly balanced one way or the other. It's kind of the way that it is. I don't think an awful lot about it."
Davis did say he likes the 'six and six' team format of the division, and doesn't know of any other logical way to do it.
"I mean, it almost seems logical that you'd have six in each division if you hope to have a championship and play the two divisions against each other in the final championship game. I don't see any other way that you could possibly do that," he said.
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