CHAPEL HILL, N.C.- On Tuesday, just days before North Carolina opens its 2006 football game against Rutgers, head coach John Bunting spoke with members of the media.
Bunting spoke about several topics, including the position battles at quarterback and linebacker, the excitement heading into the new season, and some of the pleasant surprises during training camp along the offensive line.
"Opening day; it's always a fun time, an exciting time in any program," said Bunting.
"This team we're playing (Rutgers) has got, I think, some similarity to ours, going into its six year. They went to a bowl game last year, we didn't. They played Arizona State in a high scoring game, lost a close one. They had over 500 yards of total offense."
"They've got great skill; they've got a big offensive line returning," he added.
"They lost a couple of players, but they got big guys to come in. They're athletic; their skill guys are fast. They've got a fullback that does a great job catching the ball, running with the football; very athletic; a couple of other guys who can run the football, including, from what I hear, a freshman that can make some really big plays for them."
"Their quarterback is similar to ours in that he hasn't played a lot, but he has been successful watching him on tape," Bunting continued. "They also have the option of playing a couple other players, I understand one is a redshirt freshman."
"They're a great mix of experienced players on both sides of the ball; seniors, juniors, and a couple sophomores, and they also have a very, very fine kicker who missed a couple in the opening game, and then went on to have a great season for them last year. I think he was second in percentage in the Big East, and twelfth nationally in points."
"They've got a senior punter, so their kicking game looks like it's in good shape," he added. "Once again, this is a program that has got some similarities (to us), except for the fact that they went to a bowl last year, we didn't. I know they're anticipating coming down here to open their season, and to have a great year for themselves."
"We, on the other hand, we've had a great training camp," Bunting continued. "We had some success last year against some ranked opponents, played very well at times, and this year we're hoping we can get over that hump, and a lot hinges on the first three games and we know that."
"As we go forward, we want to continue the momentum in this program; the growth and the momentum. We all know that we've done a great job recruiting around here the last couple years and we're on to a great recruiting class now. We just want to keep the momentum going. So it's important to get off to a good start for us."
During the press conference, Bunting was asked about junior Scott Lenahan and sophomore Calvin Darity, who are each expected to start for the Tar Heels this season.
Lenahan has recovered from a serious knee injury to move to the top of the UNC depth chart at center, while Darity is the top choice for the Tar Heels at right guard.
"The mark, in most cases, of a very good football player, is a guy that has had to deal with some adversity at some point in his life, whether it be home, whether it be injuries, whether it be some other situation that required a lot of perseverance," said Bunting about Lemming.
"In Scott's case, he had a knee injury that required multiple surgeries, and at one point in time, I think, at least in our minds, we were quite certain that he would probably be retiring from football, closing out his career as a player."
"But to his credit, and his folks, he stuck with it, and now he's in a position to play," he continued. "He's had a good training camp; he's got that nickname "Tank" for a reason, and he looks like one. He's a great kid; he's a smart kid; he's a very intense football player. That's why we recruited him, out of a great high school program down in Georgia, outside of Atlanta; Harrison High School."
"We wanted the leadership and the toughness that he brought to his high school program to develop in ours," Bunting added. "I'm just hopeful that we can keep him healthy and he can play a lot of snaps at center for us."
"Calvin, like Scott, had an injury that we thought might force him to hang up his football career, and to his credit, and our staff did a terrific job rehabbing him, and he's worked extremely hard to be in a position now to play a lot of football for us.
"He's still a young player; he has zero snaps out there on the field, so this first one will be an eye-opener for him, and the same thing with Scott," said Bunting.
"He has been a real worker. He has gotten better from the spring to the summer and through summer camp, which was a big objective of ours."
Bunting was also asked about his expectations of this year's team, and the personnel on the Tar Heel defense.
"We're getting there; we're getting there. We got better last year," he said. "Where are we now? I think we can be better than we were last year, and that is ultimately our goal."
"In order for us to be a contending program, in order for us to make a move, our defense has got to play extremely well. We've got to be better than 42nd; we need to be low 30s or maybe drop into the 20s. Can that be done? Yeah, it can be done."
"Do we need to stay healthy? Yeah," he continued.
"We've already started off with a difficult injury to Trimane Goddard, and Durell Mapp, our projected starter at will linebacker, has barely practiced the entire camp, so we're not starting off the way I wanted to be personnel-wise.
"We're getting better; are we in the top half of the ACC in personnel right now? That remains to be seen, but I think we are getting close, and that needs to happen. And that's recruiting." Bunting added.
The UNC head coach gave praise to senior linebacker Larry Edwards for the way he plays the game of football, and what he brings to the team this season.
"Larry Edwards is going to lay it on the line every play he's out there, and that's all I can ask. And he's pretty doggone good, and I think his production will reflect his effort, and he will give effort on every play. He's a veteran player now."
Bunting also spoke about the team's offensive objectives during camp, and some of the things that particular unit will do differently this season with a new offensive coordinator aboard.
"A big objective of ours was to get better each and every day. That was the objective for the offense on an individual basis and on a collective basis. And we've done that, that's why I'm excited about what I saw in camp," said Bunting.
"Now, of course, we want to see us getting better from game to game. As Frank Cignetti says, each day we're going to practice competitively against the No. 1 defense."
Bunting likes Cignetti's aggressive style, and the way he is promoting the offense by pitting them against the first-team defense.
"He's the first one in my five and a half or six years of training camps here to say we've got 44-50 snaps each Tuesday and Wednesday to get better against our No. 1 defense, which is an exciting way to present it to our offense; we're going to go against the No. 1's in a competitive situation," said Bunting.
"That's a great outlook, because we want to continue to get better throughout the season. And we need to."
Bunting also elaborated on the situation at middle linebacker, and which player will start at that position on Saturday.
"Mark's got a lot on this plate right now with Durell Mapp being out, playing both nickel and Mike linebacker, and a couple of special teams."
"Victor has also earned the right to play, and he's going to play. That's something we've got to schedule in, by how many plays Mark's playing. Our staff will have a plan for inserting Victor (into the game)."