Renner Solid at Quarterback
After stealing the show last April with 184 yards and a touchdown on 15 of 21 passing, Saturday's showcase should have been a breeze for Bryn Renner. But the red-shirt sophomore was quick to admit that the expectations that come along with being the starting quarterback made him much more nervous than last spring's edition.
Even so, Renner looked solid in completing 9-of-13 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown in a scrimmage setting against the first-team defense. His highlight of the game came on a deep touchdown pass to Highsmith down the seam.
"I thought I did alright," Renner said. "I need to get better at pre-snap checks at the line. I didn't think I did a really good job with that, but I thought I made plays. It was the first time that Coach Shoop was in the box with me and we were getting signals from the sidelines, so I think I need to work on that and get a lot better on that aspect."
Senior wide receiver Dwight Jones (four catches, 56 yards) told reporters during his postgame interview that Renner wasn't exactly pleased with his performance.
"I know he's frustrated – he's a very competitive guy," Jones said. "He's one of the most competitive guys that I've ever played with… He's young and he's still learning, but he's getting it, though."
Renner's ability to move the pocket and buy time under pressure with his feet is an obvious improvement over his predecessor, but overcoming the experience gap will remain a work in progress until he gets deep into his first season as UNC's signal caller.
"His words and his emotions are so high that he brings everybody along with him," Highsmith said. "There's no much difference [with T.J. Yates], but it's actually a little bit better because he throws a little bit harder than T.J."
Questions Linger in Secondary
Not to take away from Highsmith's touchdown reception, but it's not as though he was being defended by Deunta Williams and Kendric Burney. With Charles Brown sidelined as part of his NCAA punishment, Highsmith took advantage of the situation and sped past strong safety Matt Merletti and walk-on cornerback Pete Mangum for the score.
True sophomores Tre Boston (free safety) and Jabari Price (cornerback) rounded out North Carolina's starting secondary on Saturday, providing a harsh glimpse into a potential problem area for the 2011 Tar Heels.
Butch Davis even highlighted the secondary depth as an area of concern.
But while Boston, Price and Merletti were all thrust into starting roles last season before they were ready, Davis credited defensive coordinator Everett Withers and secondary coach Troy Douglas with approaching those players from the correct angle.
"It would be really easy to say, ‘Okay, they started when those other guys couldn't play and they got some game experience,' and then just to take off from where they were," Davis said. "And they didn't do that. We actually kind of rolled the clock back and said, ‘You know what? You guys played and you gained some experience, but you're really not good football players right now. You need to go back and you need to get really good at the fundamentals and techniques, jams and reroutes, pedaling, transitions, route recognition.'
"And that will be the challenge because sometimes it's hard. It's hard for a kid when you're given an opportunity to play, to go back and accept the fact that there's a lot of things that you've got to improve on."
One bright spot in the secondary was the play of sophomore Josh Hunter. The Charlotte, N.C. native picked off a Marquise Williams pass on the sideline and added four tackles at safety.
Hunter worked at both the corner and safety positions last fall, but may have found a home at free safety with his play.
"Today was a good day for me," Hunter said. "It's always good to make a big play on the ball. I just want to be a game-changer. That's a big thing for me – to help the best way that I can."
Standout Performer Award
While freshman quarterback Marquise Williams challenged for this award with his touchdown pass to Sean Tapley in 7-on-7 drills and 42-yard touchdown scamper during the scrimmage, it was another Williams that was slightly more deserving.
Sylvester Williams continued to build on his ever-growing spring rep as a force in the middle of the defensive line. As soon as the Juco transfer subbed in for Jordan Nix at tackle, he made his presence felt by exploding into the backfield on back-to-back plays.
Williams later worked his way around Travis Bond to collapse the pocket and force a quick throw by Renner.
"Sylvester is extraordinarily active," Davis said. "I think if you were going to describe him as a football player, he's got a lot of short-area quickness, he's explosive [and] he's powerful at the point of attack."
Williams has already won his teammates over in just a few short months on campus.
"I feel like he's just getting better," senior defensive end Quinton Coples said. "He's a very hard worker. Sometimes he puts me to the test and I have to match his intensity… He's going to help us out a lot."
Not bad praise for a kid that wasn't recruited out of high school and had to walk-on to Coffeyville (Kan.) CC.
Bryn Renner – 9 of 13, 123 yards, 1 TD
Braden Hason – 3 of 4, 25 yards
A.J. Blue – 1 of 5, 10 yards
Marquise Williams – 1 of 2, 8 yards, I INT
Ryan Houston 2-22
Hunter Furr 7-11
Travis Riley 3-26
Marquise Williams 1-42
Jheranie Boyd 1-5
Matt Kolojejchick 7-28
Erik Highsmith 4-67, 1 TD
Dwight Jones 4-56
Christian Wilson 1-14
Reggie Wilkins 1-10
Kenny Owens 1-8
Matt Kolojejchick 1-6
Sean Tapley 1-5
Hunter Furr 1-0
Quinton Coples 5 tackles, 1 sack
Kareem Martin 4 tackles
Joshua Hunter 4 tackles, 1 INT
Matt Merletti 3 tackles
Pete Mangum 3 tackles
Tre Boston 3 tackles