UNC head coach Butch Davis spoke during the Atlantic Coast Conference weekly coaches' teleconference on Wednesday, touching on several topics related to Saturday night's season opener.
Davis is pleased for the most part with the way training camp went for his team, and while the depth isn't where the UNC head coach currently wants it be, he feels a lot better heading into this season than last.
"I think that our preseason training camp has been pretty good," said Davis. "We obviously started out with some goals and objectives that we wanted to try to accomplish, and at least through training camp, we think that we've made progress. We had to replace some pretty talented players from last year's football team---Kentwan Balmer, Hilee Taylor and certainly, and almost most notably, Connor Barth, the kicker, and our snappers and holders---so we had some challenges during training camp. We think that we've got a better idea and appreciation as to who the players are that are going to replace the guys that we lost. Losing those two guys I just mentioned, along with Durell Mapp, that was three pretty significant players on defense."
"One of the other major goals and objectives of training camp was to try to build more depth in this football program," Davis added. "We were extraordinarily thin last year and very, very young and inexperienced, and unfortunately in the second year, we're probably still going to be in the same situation. We're still going to be a pretty young football team, and the depth that we're trying to create is probably still going to be very young and inexperienced players."
Coach Davis expects that as many as half of UNC's 15 enrolled newcomers will see action in Saturday night's season opener. That group includes multiple true freshmen and JUCO defensive back Melvin Williams.
"Of the 15 true scholarship freshmen that we signed this past year (that enrolled in camp), probably maybe half of those may actually play in this game this Saturday," said Davis. "We signed a junior college transfer in Melvin Williams to try to help in the secondary, so a lot of the newcomers are going to get a chance to play for the first time, and we'll find out where we are this Saturday."
Davis is somewhat surprised by all the media hype that the Tar Heels have received this preseason, having been selected to finish No. 2 in the ACC Coastal Division by the press assemblage at the ACC Media Days in late July. In the ensuing weeks, a great deal has been written about the Tar Heels being one of the country's biggest 'sleepers' and 'dark horse' favorites to make some noise this fall, a notion that Davis personally believes is a bit presumptuous.
"Obviously, I think an awful lot of the speculation is extraordinarily premature," he said. "We haven't won a game this season. I think that certainly there is optimism about the program, and I think that's because of the direction of the program. I think that there's a sense that we've had two relatively successful recruiting classes, but all that does is kind of somewhat bring an infusion of younger players into your program that gives you a chance for the future, and as I said last year, there's lots of steps to building this program and it's not going to be a quick fix. It's not going to be a one-year deal or a two-year thing."
Davis does acknowledge that the scrappy and competitive way in which the Tar Heels played last fall, losing six games by a total of 24 points with a large contingent of true and redshirt freshmen on the field, gives his coaching staff some optimism while fueling the media's general opinion that things are on the rise in Chapel Hill on the gridiron.
"I just think that because of the way in which the team played last year---which is probably the thing that made us feel good---is that the kids competed on Saturdays, even when we were out-manned and out-matched and even when we didn't have the depth," said Davis. "The players played hard, and I think that as you build a program, certainly how your players compete is a big part of the future success, but there's still going to be growing pains this year. There's no immediate quick fix. We're going to take some lumps and we're going to learn some lessons, and I think hopefully, if we can avoid some of the things that happened last year---most notably a lot of the injuries---if we can do that, it gives you a chance to get better, to build some continuity as the season goes along, and hopefully your kids will continue to improve the more they play."
The UNC head coach also touched on one of the biggest news stories coming out of Carolina's camp this summer—the news that Burlington (N.C.) wide receiver Dwight Jones could enroll after originally being denied admission. Jones has struggled this summer with an upper leg injury, and it's unlikely that he'll make much of an impact in Saturday's contest, but clearly the Tar Heel coaches are excited about what Jones brings to the table for the future.
"Not only did he (Jones) come in late---which was a little bit of the issue---He came in injured," said Davis. "He had gone to Valdosta (State) and he had suffered a pretty significant deep 'quad' contusion, and after our trainers and doctors looked at him, they basically shut him down for seven or eight days, where all he did was get treatment and rehab so he could get the swelling out of there and get the discoloration out to where he could actually start working out."
After working out on a limited basis for most of his first 10 days on the UNC campus, Jones was given clearance last week to get into normal 'full contact' drills during practice, which will allow him the chance to get more familiar with the offense and put himself in position to earn some playing time as a backup wideout.
"Last week was probably the first time---I think it was last Wednesday or Thursday---that he actually returned to practice status to where he was 'full-go,' where he could actually participate in all of the drills, not just on a limited basis of doing some individual things," said Davis. "He's making progress and you can tell that he's got skills and he's got talent."
"He's obviously like a lot of the other incoming freshmen---his head is spinning trying to learn all of the offense and all of the things that these other kids have been doing for the better part of 18 months, but we're glad to have him in the program," Davis added about Jones. "We think he's got a bright, talented future, and whether he plays this weekend---it's probably unlikely that he'll be ready, not only from a physical standpoint, but also from a mental standpoint, to play in this very first game."