Following North Carolina's Tuesday afternoon practice, UNC head coach Butch Davis spoke about a number of topics, including some of the top performers in practice and the return of sophomore linebacker Zach Brown.
HOARSE DAVIS BREAKS DOWN CAMP
Arriving inside the Kenan Center hallway adjacent to the UNC weight room and locker room after practice, Davis was noticeably hoarse when he began speaking to reporters. The Tar Heel head coach mentioned that after five days of practices and meetings, his voice has been going non-stop.
"I'm the perpetual chatterbox during practice, trying with tempo, hustle, talking about things we need to do, and you talk an awful lot," Davis said. "Two or three meetings a day and now on the practice field yelling and everything, it's not a sign of anything that's going wrong."
"Today was our fifth day of practice, and I'm very pleased with the things that we're doing as a football team," Davis added. "I think that our conditioning is showing up, that we've had a good offseason. Guys are able to push through these practices."
"Training camp is never very easy. It's always hot. There's always a lot of competition. The coaches are pushing for the number of reps during practice, but I think our kids have handled it very good," Davis continued. "Probably the most impressive thing about our football team right now is their willingness to work on the things that we don't do well."
"So far it's off to a good start, but we've got a long ways to go."
SIGNIFICANCE OF PRACTICES EMPHASIZED
Davis and the other coaches have been working hard to impress on the players this summer that between now and the regular season opener against The Citadel on September 5, the Tar Heels will conduct nearly half of the total practices that will come during the entire season
"We've talked to them an awful lot about how if we're going to improve as a football team, this is an unbelievably critical period of time," said Davis. "We get 29 practice opportunities before the first game. After that first game there will be 11 regular season games left, and if we have three practices a week, that means that we're only going to have 33 practices (remaining)."
"So basically almost half of the practices that we'll have as a football team this entire year are going to come during training camp. It's the most significant time of practice for us to get better, to identify players, to identify guys with roles," Davis added.
"We're making a big deal out of the fact that we've got 29 practices, and that's basically the entire half of a football season. I think that they relish the idea of how important that each one of those practices actually are---that when they leave the field, they personally have to feel like they've made improvement as a football player and as a team."
DEFENSE SHINING EARLY ON
Davis revealed that the Tar Heel defenders have gotten the better of the offensive units in the early stages of camp, and that the UNC defensive line in particular has been setting the tone on the practice field.
"I think our defense, thus far through the first part as you would suspect, our defense has had probably a little bit of the better end of the deal in practices, just from the standpoint they've got a larger, significant number of guys returning," Davis said.
"Defensively, I think our defensive line has set the tempo for all of our practices," he added. "They're really pushing themselves. They're older. They're more mature. They're able to push themselves longer during the heat of the battle."
Along with the linemen, Davis spoke highly about several retuning players among the linebackers and secondary.
"Guys in the secondary that I think have stood out, I think Kendric Burney has made some plays," he said. "I think Jordan Hemby is off to an excellent start. I think our linebackers, I think Kevin Reddick, Bruce (Carter), and Quan (Sturdivant), those guys have done a good job."
COACHES CHALLENGING, FOCUSING ON FUNDAMENTALS
Davis admitted that with the added experience of this year's team, the coaches are able to bring more to the table this summer in practice in terms of challenging the players and pushing them to reach their maximum potential
"To be honest with you, we are able to challenge our players a little bit more," Davis said. "It actually started back in the spring time, with guys really being here a little bit longer, we can kind of take it to another level on some things."
While the team naturally wants to play fast, Davis has reminded the players of the need to focus on their assignments and on having proper fundamentals in addition to being fast.
"I think that if you're not careful, you'll not focus enough on the little things, and that's one of the things I told them," he added. "I said although it's the third year and you'd like us to go at a rapid pace, you're still going to win football games with blocking, tackling, a lot of the fundamental things. But the one thing is that they know how to push themselves, and we don't have talk to them about the difference between what's a good practice and what's not a good practice."
OFFENSE, SPECIAL TEAMS COMING TOGETHER
Although the defensive units have looked particularly strong over the first few days of training camp, Davis said that Tuesday's session was the best so far for the offense.
"The offense, today, was by far and away their best practice," he said. "We had a really good blitz drill today, really trying to put the pressure on our offense, and I thought they did a very good job as far of the protections are going."
Offensively, defensively, and in the realm of special teams, much of the first week of practice is about implementing various plays and schemes.
In special teams, much of that effort is being dedicated to finding new prospects at punt and kickoff returner.
"There's an awful lot of stuff going on from an installation standpoint, besides the offensive and defensive work things that we're doing," Davis said. "We've got to really do a lot of work on special teams. We've got a lot of specialist areas, Replacing Brandon Tate and some of those guys that were punt returners, kick returners, is a big part of the issue during this training camp."
EVERYONE GETTING A SHOT
As he's mentioned in prior interviews in the past, Davis makes no bones about the fact that he considers training camp the opportune time to give everyone on the team an opportunity to show what they can do, including the newcomers.
"As I said before, we're not really focusing a great deal much on depth charts and those kinds of things," he said. "We're trying to give guys a lot of equal-opportunity reps, you know. We're coaching three teams in just about every position just so the guys can get an awful lot of opportunities to get on the field and get better."
"Clearly with the young kids, the freshmen and the redshirt freshmen, they're getting a lot of the fundamentals and the basics, but they're getting an awful lot of opportunities to watch the older kids execute some things that we hope that they'll be able to very soon," Davis added.
In addition to speaking highly about UNC's top two tight ends, Davis mentioned how some of the rookie offensive linemen are stepping up in practice.
Due to the overall lack of depth along the offensive line, the newcomers are getting a chance to prove themselves against high-caliber competition on the practice field each day.
"I think Zack Pianalto is having an excellent camp. Ed Barham is doing a very, very good job," Davis said.
"In the offensive line, I'll talk about some of the young offensive linemen. Jonathan Cooper, Travis Bond, those guys, Brennan Williams, those young freshmen, you know what? Because of the lack of depth, they're getting challenged probably more in this training camp than they would have clearly ever gotten challenged, because they're getting opportunities at times to go sometimes with the second unit," said Davis, "Which means they get a face full of guys like Tydreke Powell and some of those second-team defensive linemen that are pretty good. You have a pretty good challenge every day."
BROWN RETURNS, BRYANT REMAINS AWAY
While Zach Brown has made his way back to Chapel Hill after missing a couple of early practices due to his sister's wedding, sophomore offensive lineman Kevin Bryant has yet to report. Coach Davis spoke briefly about both.
"(Bryant) is not back," said Davis. "Yeah, it is good, you know (to have Brown in camp). It's good he got an opportunity to be in his sister's wedding, and I don't think he's not going to retire from football and go into a singing career anytime in the near future, but it was good for him to be a part of that, and it's good to have him back."
Davis doesn't feel that missing a couple of early training camp practices will set back Brown, who is among the elite athletes on the team and in peak physical condition.
"I don't think missing one day or two days of practice, I don't think it's going to set him back. He's practicing well now that he's back," Davis said.