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August 22, 2011

Several impress Withers in scrimmage

UNC head coach Everett Withers spoke to Tar Heel Illustrated Monday afternoon after its final preseason practice before the start of classes.

We asked him about how Saturday's scrimmage went, and Withers spoke about several players who impressed him.

"I think Bryn Renner had a good scrimmage. HIs numbers were something like 12-for-15 (passing), and did a nice job throwing the football and making completions," Withers said.

"Dwight Jones, I think, had a really good scrimmage. Jonathan Cooper, Kevin Reddick always shows up on defense. Tre Boston," Withers added.

Withers seems pleased with the progression of the Tar Heel defense this summer.

He liked what he saw early on out of the unit on Saturday, and he said they had a good workout Monday.

"I think a lot of the guys on defense, we're getting better each day on defense," he said.

"Those guys have improved. They had a good practice today (Monday). They started that way in the scrimmage Saturday, and I thought they had a good practice today."

Withers gave us an update on Todd Harrelson, who is working his way into the mix at two-deep for UNC at cornerback coming off last week's position move.

"I think Todd has made a smooth transition. Obviously we just keep working him and keep getting him better with the fundamentals and technique . But he's got some natural ability that has enabled him to go out there and play and not really miss a beat," Withers said.

"Other than just knowing the calls and communication, he's basically has lined up and played out there like he's been out there for a long time," the UNC coach added.

Jabari Price will not be back until early October, so guys like Harrelson and Tim Scott are going to play a vital role in the UNC secondary, along with the returning Charles Brown, who has to sit out the season opener.

"Any competitor would be down, but he (Price) knows that its one of those things where he needs to continue to get better in the classroom, over on campus and on the football field," said Withers.

"I think Jabari will be fine. I think Jabari has matured a lot, and I think this will be part of that maturity process."

The Tar Heel coaches will be keeping a close eye on Price, but they're hopeful to get back another returning injured player sooner.

Senior running back Ryan Houston continues to get lots of repetitions in the individual portions of practices, but he's still wearing the orange 'No Contact' jersey that has been a staple of his August so far.

"We'll evaluate him daily. Our sports medicine staff will let us know when its time for him to get out of it, and we won't do it before then," Withers said of Houston. "As soon as they say he can get in that booth in that Kentucky Derby and let him go, we'll let him go."

Without Houston in the rotation during scrimmages and other live segments of practice, other players with less experience have gotten a chance to take those reps.

"A lot of times when you have people that are nicked, you get a chance to see some other guys," Withers said. "A.J. Blue, we would have never known, you know, had we not given him the snaps that he's gotten (at running back). His progress has been good."

"Travis Riley, Romar Morris---those guys have all gotten a bunch of work, and now we can evaluate them," Withers added. "Now we can see where their role is this year and how they're going to fit."

As Houston has been working to get back up to full strength, the Tar Heel offense has been driven along by a determined and focused group of veteran offensive linemen.

Anyone watching one of Carolina's practices can see the leadership oozing out of the offensive lineman position group when they're working together, and Coach Withers is hopeful to see some of what the older players are doing rub off on the younger guys.

"I think it's really infectious in that group---especially those guys who have played a bunch of snaps---to help the young guys, because they know they've got a chance to be good, and the only way they can be good is if they've got good backups that can help them," Withers said.

"I think it all starts with Cam Holland at center. Cam's just that quiet leader. But you can always see Cam back there trying to teach those young guys how to play at this level."

"Jonathan Cooper, he's one of those solid guys that does a good job with teaching. We're excited about Jon. Travis Bond has really grown up, and he takes that role," Withers added.

Another veteran player that might not get the attention of some of his teammates but is nonetheless an important leader on this squad is senior place kicker Casey Barth.

Interestingly enough, North Carolina's football program has had a Barth kicking for it going all the way back to the 2004 season, when Casey's older brother Connor nailed arguably the biggest field goal in school history---the clincher against No. 3 Miami.

Eight seasons of Barths comes to a bittersweet conclusion after the 2011 campaign.

"Casey's been unbelievable for us as a football player, and hopefully that will continue. He's one of the leaders on our football team. All our kids really respect him," Withers said. "We're really excited about Casey, and hopefully he can have a great year for us."

Withers wrapped up his media conversation Monday afternoon by touching on a few other topics, including the presence of Ronald Curry at Monday's practice, and a recent team activity that involved meeting students and passing out drinks on campus.

Curry, one of the greatest all-around athletes to ever don Tar Heel colors, was warmly welcomed back to campus, and he was decked out in UNC gear during the session.

"Ronald is one of those guys---I told those guys in the meeting this morning, I said, 'Anytime you've got one of those guys who is on one of those pillars (inside Kenan Stadium) out there, or he's got a picture (inside the stadium), he must be something special.'"

"Ronald has gone through a lot playing here. He did some good things here and in the NFL," Withers said. "Any time he can help some of our younger guys as a role model on the field or off the field, then its a plus to have those guys around."

Withers thought it was a good thing to engage the students and see the support they have for the football players coming off what has been unquestionably the most tumultuous year in the history of the program.

"That was a neat experience, I tell you what," Withers said about the team passing out drinks to students.

"You get away from campus, you get away from this building and you get on campus and you meet some of then new students on campus, and I tell you what, it was great the support that we got out there, giving away the Gatorade and water from the people that really support this ball team. I thought it was a great move and a great chance to meet with the students on campus."

With less than two weeks before the Tar Heels take the field before their season opener September 3 in Kenan Stadium against James Madison, Withers feels things are right on track.

The team will begin more game-specific work later this week before getting into a regular game week routine starting next Monday.

"I think we're right on schedule. I think we're on schedule. We'll start game preparation here shortly. We've done a little bit so far, but we'll start the majority of it the latter part of the week," he said.

"I think we're right on schedule. I think we're where we need to be right now getting ready for the first ball game," Withers added.






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