Bunting Q&A (8/12/02)

CHAPEL HILL, NC--Head UNC football coach John Bunting took time to address the media following the first preseason practice in full pads on Monday morning.

How do you feel about the effort you saw today, and was it better than yesterday?

"I think our effort's been good. We went through a little haze putting on the pads and anticipating the heat yesterday, but I think we looked good yesterday."

You yelled to the guys during one drill, "I need a volunteer. We only have one middle linebacker." Why is it you only had one, and how distressing is that?

"At one point we only had one. One had a hurt shoulder during a walk-through period. I don't know how that happened. That's a first in my 35 years of playing and coaching football.

"Sean was limited today. He was inside the training room for a bit, and we were down to one linebacker, so I was looking for volunteers."

When you have the nagging injuries that keep people out, does it reinforce the fact that you have a lack of depth, and is it almost scary?

"It was scary before. It is scary now. That's unchanged. It's very scary, as I said entering the season."

How much have the problems at linebacker held back the defense?

"Well, we've got to go on. Dave Hux is on a schedule, and we're not going to detour from that schedule. He's got a plan that's preconceived. Every once in a while you have to tweek it and adjust it, but we are going on. We will continue to work the other linebackers. We're going to defend all those various offenses, and somebody is going to have to jump up and play – and play consistently and play all the time. This is a tough, physical football game. People get nicks and pains, and they've got to get through it. When you miss time and you are a rookie player, or a player that has not played very much, that concerns the heck out of me because he's not practicing. You can not get it just off of tape. You've got to play."

When you arrived as coach, you said that you wanted to run the ball "down hill." You said that you are comfortable doing tha with three backs. Where do you think the running game is, and how important is it to your success?

"I think it's very important to our success to be able to hold the ball a little bit more. Last year, we were a big play team on offense, with a couple of games where Andre really got on track – Virginia and Clemson. Other than that, we were kind of a big-play offense with the wide-outs that we had and Willie Parker breaking a big play here and there.

"With our running backs and our offensive line – being pretty stout up the middle – I hope that we can run the ball more. I'm hopeful that we get Zack Hilton into the picture, along with Bobby Blizzard and Madison Hedgecock – either with the short passing game or the power running game with Madison. Madison has carried the ball some in training camp, which was an objective of ours, and quite frankly [he] looks pretty dog gone good."

Getting the running game – wouldn't that serve to keep the young defense off the field?

"No doubt. It helps the defense. That's why you want to be able to control the ball more."

You ran a lot of nickel today. Why was that, exactly?

"Gary [Tranquill] has that set up every day. He has that organized. We run a complete gamut of personnel groups every single day. We run the two-back. We run the one-back. We run it with two tights. We run it with three wides. We vary the personnel all throughout practice."

Can you talk about the development of Jarwarski Pollock and what you expect from him this year?

"We knew going into this camp that we wanted "Watt" or "Jaws" or whatever you want to call him to be a big part of our offense. It's important for him to get a part of it. Thus far, he's getting most of the reps in the substituted personnel groups. He is out there close to 95 percent of the time when we are in three wides or four wides. He plays an important role for us, and he is coming along.

"I see him getting better every day. He loves to play, he loves to work, he's got great hands, he's a play-maker. He's short in stature, but he's long on making plays."

He had a big spring game. Do you want to have him touch the ball a lot this year?

"I think it would be great for Jarwarski Pollock to be involved in many aspects of our offense and special teams, touching the ball – reverses and punt returns, [too] He's a dynamic figure back there, and he loves to play. He's got a year under his belt in our program, and we're happy with the way he's progressed."

You criticized the receivers early last year for not producing like you expected them to. Do you see any indications this year that they will hit the ground running?

"I think we are much further along, catching the ball, than we were last year. The problems that we suffered early on in games surfaced in training camp – guys weren't catching the ball, and guys weren't making plays.

"Guys that I counted on and guys that I figured could make plays weren't doing it in camp, for the most part, and weren't doing it in the games. There's a correlation. You don't do it in practice, you usually won't do it in a game. You usually won't. Guys started doing it in practice, and then, all of a sudden, they did it in games. Right now, we're catching the ball very well."

It seems like Sam Aiken is pretty established as one of your starting wide-outs. Assuming the starting line-up has two, is there competition for the second starter?

"Chesley [Borders] has that position [now], but that doesn't mean he has it [when we play the first game]. He's going to be challenged. I like what I see in Jarwarski [Pollock]. I like what I see in Derrele Mitchell. I like what I see in a couple other guys."

Is Byron Russell all the way back?

"He is closing in on it every day. He feels more confident. I talked to his mom and dad on the phone last night, just to tell them how pleased I am with his progress."

You said in the spring that you wanted to be more aggressive on defense. Are you pleased with how that's coming so far?

"We're about ready to drive the offense crazy, at this point. Hux has done a great job organizing it. Fleming and the secondary, and the D-line coaches, are making very few mental errors and and executing a whole bunch of blitzes, and I'm happy about that."

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