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August 18, 2007
Secondary asserts itself
The heat broke on Saturday, replaced by a cooling breeze. UNC took advantage of the relief to hold another scrimmage and take a harder look at its football team in a variety of situations.
Head coach Butch Davis recounted what the team did with a positive outlook. His demeanor as he mingled with people after he spoke to the media seemed to reflect a good feeling about what he had just seen during a closed scrimmage at Kenan Stadium. He appeared comfortable, calm and pleased.
"We accomplished quite a bit this morning," Davis said. "We took about 30 minutes and went through pre-game routine, which is always a little bit of a Chinese fire drill the first time you try to orchestrate going through that so they will have an opportunity to understand what we're going to do for the first game."
The most surprising development is Davis insinuated there would be another scrimmage next week. This was the third scrimmage of preseason camp, and that is usually the total Carolina teams held in the past. Obviously, Davis and his staff have weighed the need for work under live conditions against a fear of injury and decided on more preparation.
"We had a good week of practice," Davis said. "Today's scrimmage was good. The best news is we didn't get anybody hurt. You're always concerned as a coach. You need the work. You have to do the work. You've got to be able to go full speed, but you hold your breath when there are big collisions. That is the way the game is going to be played."
Anthony Elzy continues to nurse a sprained ankle and did not participate. Johnny White started at running back.
"He did a really, really good job," Davis said of White. "Richie Rich got a chance to come in and go with the ones halfway through the scrimmage and did a good job. Ryan Houston went mostly with the twos and threes."
Davis announced on Thursday that red-shirt freshman T.J. Yates will be the starting quarterback for the opening game against James Madison on Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. at Kenan Stadium.
Yates responded on Saturday by directing the first-team offense to two touchdowns on two of the three times drives in which he participated. Freshman wide receiver Greg Little said that he scored on a reverse. Safety Trimane Goddard intercepted a pass for the first-team defense in a red-zone drill against the second team offense.
The most revealing news of the day is the secondary is now set, with Kendric Williams and Kendric Burney starting at cornerbacks, while Goddard and Deunta Williams are starting at the safety positions. Davis also said that he has presented Williams, a walk-on, with a scholarship for the fall.
Davis has expressed concern about the secondary throughout the spring and early in this camp, but he said after the scrimmage those starters are beginning to gel.
"The biggest area of progress is we feel much better about the starting unit [in the secondary] right now," Davis said. "Those guys are really starting to play well together. The secondary is an awful lot like the offensive line. They have to be cohesive. They have to communicate. They've got to talk. There are so many adjustments and looks.
"At the backups, it is somewhat like our backup offensive line. It's still a work in progress. We're still looking at guys. The biggest issue we have right now [with backups in the secondary] is consistency and mental mistakes. There are some guys we think have the athletic ability to do it. But right now, they have to prove that they've earned the trust of the defense, not just the coaches but of the other players. They have to prove they are going to go in and do the right thing. Until they do, we can't get them in the game."
There is little doubt the coaching staff is relieved to put together an effective starting lineup in the secondary. Davis has said all along the secondary has been an area of immense concern.
Defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Chuck Pagano said that this has been the best week of practice yet for the first-team guys.
"They have made progress," Pagano said. "They had a great off-season, a great summer together. They spent a lot of time here. From a communication standpoint, this last week it was their biggest leap forward as far as communicating, working together, understanding and knowing the call, getting lined up and really having an idea of what we're trying to accomplish.
"I think they have made some big strides."
Goddard said that one of the biggest assets for the secondary is the great improvement in depth and talent along the front seven. The defensive line and linebackers are more athletic and able to put pressure on the opposition, which can only help the secondary do its job, Goddard said.
"By far, this is the best defensive line and the most depth we've had since I've been here," said Goddard, a red-shirt junior who missed last season with a broken foot. "There are a bunch of athletes up there in front of us. It's not just big guys. They have great moves. They do a lot of different things. They want to get to the quarterback.
"With their depth and the rotation, it allows them to have a fresh front four out there every play. That helps us in the backend also. It takes a lot of pressure off us."
Goddard smiled at the mention of freshman Bruce Carter, who has moved into a starting position at linebacker.
"There are times when I forget he's a freshman," Goddard said. "He's so fast. He runs, and he is a playmaker. I've been very impressed with him. He can use his agility, and he's powerful, too. He can shed blocks. He can cover [receivers]. He's a very versatile player."