The hottest day of Camp Bunting greeted the Tar Heels Thursday night and it quickly showed. With temperatures reaching the high 80s and a high level of humidity, a handful of players headed for the training room. Ronnie McGill’s hamstrings began cramping up slightly near the end of practice, but not before he delivered the biggest play of the preseason so far. Read on to find out how McGill got his teammates howling and which highly-touted transfer showed up.
In 11-on-11 drills, McGill caught a swing pass in the flat from Darian Durant and took off. The sophomore running back juked one defender, shrugged off a blow from outstretched freshman Hilee Taylor and five yards later plowed right over senior safety Gerald Sensabaugh -- perhaps the Tar Heels’ hardest hitter. A roar of noise came from the sidelines as No. 25 headed downfield all alone.
“I caught the ball and took some hits, but I really don’t remember anything until the hit by Gerald,” said McGill with his infectious smile. “Then I took off down the field and then I got tired.”
The arrival of McGill’s main competition for the 2005 season was the biggest news of the night. LSU transfer Barrington Edwards worked individually with strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors before practice began. The sophomore, who Rivals ranked as the No. 10 running back of the 2003 class, isn’t allowed to join practice until Aug. 24 -- the first day of classes -- under NCAA rules.
That couldn’t stop Edwards, who displayed a muscular physique and arms lined with tattoos, from mingling. The former Tiger, who received scholarship offers from Georgia and USC coming out of Bowie (Md.) High, looked like he had been a Tar Heel for seasons, laughing with McGill and his other new teammates during breaks.
The media also got its first look at the newly-adjusted defense. Since Chase Page’s season-ending injury on Tuesday night, highly-touted freshman Khalif Mitchell was moved from defensive end to defensive tackle, freshman linebacker Hilee Taylor started taking reps at defensive end and junior safety Mahlon Carey moved to outside linebacker.
Carey looked natural during 11-on-11 drills, and Taylor -- despite his skinny frame -- proved very tough to block for offensive tackles.
The biggest surprise on defense continues to be the absence of promising sophomore linebacker Larry Edwards from the first team. Edwards, who recently returned from a strained groin, took reps with the second and third-team and struggled to make tackles at times.
“Larry is working back into shape and he has a long ways to go,” said head coach John Bunting of the player who finished third on the team with 89 tackles last season. “He has to catch up. The competition at linebacker was opened wide by his injury.
“Larry wasn’t quite ready for training camp when he got here. He wasn’t quite focused early on. It’s already hard to do that, but it’s especially hard when you have had some early success. He needs to get his weight down, too.”
Bunting also addressed the search for a starting tight end. Sophomore Jon Hamlett is getting plenty of competition from senior Scott Brumett, who transferred from East Tennessee State.
“It’s a heat right now between those two.“ Bunting said. “You saw the swimming race in the Olympics where the Australian almost won. That’s how close it is.”
Some of the other noteworthy news of the night included freshman Ben Lemming lining up at right tackle with the first team offense. Senior starter Skip Seagraves was sidelined with a minor injury.
Freshman Connor Barth ended practice by nailing a 50-yard field goal. He missed his earlier attempt from 47 yards to the right.
Highlights: In 11-on-11 drills, Quinton Person intercepted a Matt Baker pass intended for Jesse Holley…Roger Heinz showed his mobility by rolling to his right and hitting Wallace Wright with an accurate pass on the run…Bryon Bethea picked off a Heinz pass intended for Wright moments later….In 7-on-7 drills, Lionell Green picked off a pair of passes…Tommy Richardson broke up a pass attempt…In the two-minute drill, Darian Durant fired back-to-back touchdown passes….Tommy Richardson knocked a pass to the ground near the goal line…Scott Brumett held on to a short pass from Baker despite an early hit from Fred Sparkman….In positional drills, Adarius Bowman made a spectacular catch on a deep pass down the sidelines over Bethea…Daunte Fields and Sam Heathcote also made impressive grabs…After a botched snap on a field-goal attempt, Connor Barth actually made a touchdown catch, grabbing a Roger Heinz pass in midair over Quinton Person that left many players laughing.
Injuries: Ronnie McGill had 13 stitches put into his left forearm before practice due to a stiff arm getting caught in Fred Sparkman’s face mask Wednesday night…Joe Kedra (sprained right knee) remains on crutches and Shelton Bynum (left hip) is still out. Scott Lenehan, Thomas Nyaoga, Skip Seagraves and others all sat out the practice with minor injuries. Kentwan Balmer and Kyndraus Guy, who took a big hit during 9-on-7 drills, both sat out the last-half of practice but neither injury is considered serious.
Note: This type of content is normally reserved for TarHeelIllustrated's premium subscribers.