While speaking to members of the media this week, North Carolina head coach Butch Davis provided a comprehensive update on senior tight end/H-back Ryan Taylor, who sprained his knee during training camp and has been sidelined for approximately four weeks now.
While Davis expressed optimism in Taylor returning to practice and game action soon, right now he's still working through the process of getting his knee back up to full strength.
"He is very, very close to being in a position to come back to practice. He ran pretty good over the weekend," said Davis. "He's not practicing this week. No, he hasn't returned to practice. But he is running at a higher level and he's starting to cut and stuff."
Davis doesn't have a specific prognosis in terms of when Taylor will be back on the field, but there's no question that his presence will be welcomed back in the UNC offense in light of the loss of Zack Pianalto.
"I wish there was a crystal ball that I could tell you, 'Well, it's going to be two weeks from now,' or whatever, but every week he (Taylor) makes strides," said Davis. "He's training hard. He's squatting in the weight room. He's doing full-body workouts."
"He would be a huge addition," he added. "There's no question that he would be a good addition if and when he can come back at a level that would help us certainly to play."
"We know Christian (Wilson) and Ed (Barham) and of course Ryan Taylor, they have the ability to do the same things as Zack did," said quarterback T.J. Yates.
There's a chance that Taylor could return to practice as soon as next week, but even then, he has to show that he can handle himself in a practice setting before he would be able to go into a game.
"It wouldn't surprise me to see him maybe return to practice next week maybe on a limited basis and maybe even more than a limited basis---that he starts coming back into doing individual drills and running seven-on-seven where you know that he's not actually going to get hit or tackled," Davis said.
"There's other steps after getting back to practice. Where is he from the standpoint of being able to take a blow and get hit? That's another hurdle that we've got to handle," Davis added. "Then once he goes through a week like that, whether it's next week or the week after, then the next week you look for him to potentially, possibly play but that still may be a month away. I don't know."
The actual timing of when Taylor returns to the practice field and into the game will be determined by North Carolina's medical staff, which has been monitoring him heavily over the past several weeks.
"Obviously all of those injury decisions and when they do return to practice is 100 percent in the hands of our medical staff and our trainers," said Davis. "But I think he (Taylor) is getting close to that. He's starting to run full speed and make some cuts and stuff, so we should see some kind of potential return to practice, but then that's just getting back to practice."
Without the dependable production of Pianalto to lean on, the offense doesn't have a proven 'safety valve' at tight end, and Taylor can fill that role if he gets back up to speed.
For the sake of the Tar Heels, it would be a very big thing to him back at some point in October.