** Training camp officially ended on Monday, and after a day off for the start of classes on Tuesday, the Tar Heels returned to the practice field on Wednesday with the season opener against James Madison on their minds. Withers told reporters that game prep for the Dukes is now underway.
“The process has started, but it will get more heavy here in the next couple of days,” Withers said.
The transition from camp to game week includes roster movement for players outside of the two-deep to the scout team and the coaching staff has spent time this week acclimating those Tar Heels to their new roles. For example, freshman offensive tackle Kiaro Holts worked with the defensive end two-deep during position drills, while rookie guard Jarrod James battled against the starters and their backups at defensive tackle.
** Starting tailback Ryan Houston (shoulder) has worn an orange no-contact jersey every day since the preseason started three weeks ago, while his backup, Giovanni Bernard, has made the same fashion statement for the past 12 days. But now that game week is just four days away, that orange color will be removed from the closet.
“I think they’re right on schedule to be ready to go next week,” Withers said. “We’re excited about them. They came through this thing fine and I think we’ll be full speed next week.”
Red-shirt sophomore A.J. Blue has seen an increased number of reps since Bernard fractured his hand during a scrimmage on Aug. 13, but don’t think that the Dallas, N.C. native will just fade into the background now that his teammates are returning to full contact.
“He’s going to be in the numbers,” Withers said. “He’s going to be in the mix. For the last few years we’ve had four that’s had to play, so he’s going to get his shots at it. How many? I don’t know. We’ll try to get that feel as we get into the first ball game.”
** Veteran cornerback Charlie Brown will sit out the season opener in finalizing his NCAA suspension, which will allow freshman Tim Scott to likely earn the first start of his college career next Saturday. Withers indicated that Scott and Tre Boston are in position to start at the corner spots against James Madison.
Defensive end Quinton Coples raved on the quartet of freshmen cornerbacks – Scott, Alex Dixon, Sam Smiley and Kameron Jackson – to reporters earlier in the day, and Withers agreed on their capabilities.
“They’re all talented,” Withers said. “I think we’re more talented athletically than the [other] three years that I’ve been here. So it’s just a matter of experience, and if we can afford to get them in the game and play them, then I don’t see why not. We won’t throw one in there just to throw him in there, but if he can help us win a game, then we’ll definitely consider it.”
Smiley missed Thursday’s practice after breaking a finger earlier in the week. He is scheduled to have surgery on Friday morning, but is expected to make a quick recovery.
** Withers highlighted route running and consistency in catching the ball as the items that senior wide receiver Dwight Jones has most improved on since last season. His growth, however, has extended beyond his own game.
“I think Dwight has obviously always been a talent,” Withers said. “His leadership, his maturity – I think he’s helped a bunch of the young guys improve and that’s been a big issue.”
** In nine days, Withers will run out of the Kenan Stadium tunnel as a head coach for the first time in his career. He hasn’t allowed himself to think about that milestone yet, though – there’s still too much work to be done.
“I usually go day-to-day and work on what’s happening today,” Withers said. “On game day, I’ll hopefully manage the game like it should be managed as a head coach and let the players play and the coaches coach and hopefully stay out of the way and not mess it up for them.”
** Withers pointed to freshmen wide receivers T.J. Thorpe and Sean Tapley and rookie defensive tackles Shawn Underwood and Devonte Brown as players that have surprised the coaching staff with their play during training camp.
** Inside Carolina watched more than a dozen Tar Heels field punt and kick returns on the first day of training camp three weeks ago. That number has now been sliced in half as Withers mentioned Tapley, Thorpe, Brown, Todd Harrelson and Reggie Wilkins as players competing for the return spot.
“I think we’ve got more big-play ability back there than in any time that I’ve been here – other than Brandon Tate,” Withers said.
** Red-shirt sophomore wide receiver Josh Adams took the practice field in full pads on Thursday for what is thought to be the first time since being diagnosed with ANCA Vasculitis, an auto-immune disorder that affects his kidneys, in January. The Cambridge, Mass. native still likely has a lengthy recovery in front of him, but credit goes to the UNC staff for doing the leg work in ’09 to make sure that Adams won’t be penalized for his illness.
Adams started his first two games as a true freshman before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. UNC officials went ahead and submitted paperwork for a medical waiver, which allowed Adams to count the season as a red-shirt year despite playing in the first couple of games.
That move could pay further dividends for Adams if he is not able to return to the field in 2011. NCAA rules allow for a sixth year of eligibility if a player misses two or more seasons due to injury and has not voluntarily sat out a year for red-shirting purposes.