Spring Practice: Wednesday Wrap Up

Spring Practice: Wednesday Wrap Up

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina hit the field for the fourth time this spring in a spirited and physical workout at Kenan Stadium. Here are a few notes from today's practice...

  • As head coach John Bunting pointed out on the first day of practice, much of the offensive playbook is already showing up on the field, going as far as to say as much or more than during any spring in his tenure.

    That offense appears to be about as varied as it can be, especially in the passing game, with passes going to the tight end, the H-back, the fullback, the tailback out of the backfield and in the flat, screens to wide receivers, and all that before even considering any deep threats.

  • None of the coaches are willing to name a leader in the race for starting quarterback, and Bunting insists that a decision will not be made until "deep into training camp," but at this point the advantage in game experience goes to Joe Dailey, who played for two seasons at Nebraska before transferring to UNC.

  • While Dailey does not see much difference in the offense from last year in the running game, he does see something more to his liking in the passing game.

    "There are more answers to the problems," Dailey said. "Each pass play gives you an answer to a certain coverage, and we have an option for every coverage. That's the key to being successful in the passing game--being able to move the ball against any coverage."

  • Last season's dynamic freshman kick returner Brandon Tate will now be one of those threats on offense that could take it the distance any time he touches the ball, in particular the wide receiver screen.

    "The ball in Brandon Tate's hands is a good idea," said Bunting. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a smart coach to figure that one out. We want to do that and do it a lot."

  • Earning praise in particular from Bunting for elevating their play on Wednesday on offense were Kenny Price and E.J. Wilson. Price is still in the learning stages of his move to right guard, but the enthusiasm is already there. And Wilson may not yet have the game experience, but at 260 pounds he was laying the wood to anyone he encountered on defense. I can envision quite a few "Uh-oh" moments from opposing linebackers in the future.

  • The ball was on the ground a few times on the center/quarterback exchange, but that was due to some new personnel. Calvin Darity, who has experimented some at center in the past, was back in that position, and Aaron Stahl has moved over from defensive line.

  • The emotion of practice peaked Wednesday afternoon in what Bunting calls the "half-line drill," in what can best be described as down and dirty smash mouth football, a run drill with all-out hitting on the line. Players were grunting, growling, and gazing, and coaches were shouting words of congratulations for those who executed well and correcting those who did not.

    "We haven't done that in a long time," Bunting said. "Quite frankly, I've been a little scared to do it. We want to get heavy competition and heavy hitting in a scrimmage situation… If you do it back-to-back, you are afraid that maybe you are doing too much clanging. I think we got some good isolated one-on-one blocks, combinations blocks, that helped our runners get a better feel for the hole."

  • With the graduation of senior Tommy Richardson, linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen is putting more of the responsibility to know where to position themselves on each of his linebackers and relying less on a single point of contact to get everyone else into position.

  • Chase Rice is currently listed first on the depth chart at the "Will" linebacker, based on the preparation he has done off the field, in the film room and in the weight room. The coaches are limited as to what they can make mandatory for players and Rice has taken it upon himself to put in the extra work.

    "There is something to be said for a kid who comes in and constantly asks questions…" Thigpen said. "If he doesn't understand something he'll come to the office. It might me 8:00 at night, or it might be 7:00 in the morning.

    "[Football] is no different than studying chemistry. If you just go to class and take that test, you won't [do as well]… It's just like studying for a test. If you have great habits in the classroom there should be carry-over. Going to the film room is just like studying for your class."

    Rice is up to several hours each day Monday through Friday. He sits at the computer, calls up the defense he's studying for the day, watches how it is employed incorrectly and then watches how it is supposed to be done.

    Up in weight from 205 to 225, Rice can already tell a difference in managing contact on the field.

    "Last year I was on the ground a lot," Rice said. "I was getting pushed back or pulled down. Now, when linemen pull around and I hit them it feels a lot different, a lot better, and I don't go to the ground as easily as I did last year, and that's a really good feeling."

    He has come a long way, but Coach Bunting points out that he still has room for improvement in his run fits and pass coverage.

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