Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

According to UNC head football coach John Bunting, the Tar Heel defense is figuring out their alignments and assignments, but the poor tackling is still a problem.

The old adage, "Practice makes perfect" isn't exactly correct. "Perfect practice makes perfect," is a little more fitting. Last week there were times when the UNC football players were not practicing at their highest level, and Bunting became irritated. This week he decided to have individual meetings with some of the seniors and some of the leaders on the team to try to turn things around.

"I feel like there are times when the whole team hasn't been on the same level," senior tight end Zach Hilton explained. "Some people will be practicing well and others won't. Other times, the other people will be practicing well. We have to get on the same page and all be going hard at the same time.

"Coach met with us [on Monday] and was talking about how we need to go harder against the scounts, which is tough because it's not as competitive, it's not full speed, and you aren't getting the looks that you are used to. You have to take it upon yourself to really play hard and take advantage of some periods like that as much as you can and get the most out of it. We really just need to step our concentration-level up and how hard we are going. Overall, I think we need to come together as a team and practice hard. I think it's something we can get done."

"I totally feel like our lack of working hard -- I'll say for me, personally -- in practice and not giving it my all in practice is a reason why we are where we are right now," senior linebacker Malcolm Stewart said. "Not only me, but other players too. [We] aren't bringing excitement and having fun in practice. We have eight more games. My biggest goal, and our biggest goal as a team, is to go out, have fun, compete in practice, work on finishing plays, tackling, running to the ball -- the little things to help us win."

Throughout the season, there has been no full contact in practice. The players go what is referred to as "thud tempo" where the tackler gets in position, makes the hit, and does everything but actually tackle. On Saturday, there were plays on defense where that is exactly what happened -- the player did everything but make the tackle. And now it looks like a little full contact might help.

"I don't think we've come up with that answer yet," Bunting said, "[but] I think we are going to have to do some things differently. That may involve live tackling. We may just have to do that. I'll speak with my coordinators, and we will discuss it. That's probably going to have to happen.

"Last year, with that really fine defense that we had, I used to do live goal line at the end of practice every Tuesday. I have not done that this year. The reason: numbers. We don't have the depth of talent."

After meeting with the seniors, Bunting says that, to a man, the players tell him that they want him to push them harder in practice to help them get the most out of their time on the practice fields during the week.

"They understand -- at least they tell me they do -- it takes great practice habits to play," Bunting explained. "If you don't practice well, you aren't going to play well. It's hard to do that. Some great teams can do it, on occasion. The great teams practice well because they want to, they simply want to because they know it helps them win.

"We changed that culture a little bit last year when we started practicing better. For the most part, we got it changed in training camp, but sometimes when you go into the season, players are no longer in competitive situations red-shirting, or they see they aren't going to play as much they might shut it down. We are going to create some competition."

Bunting says that tackling is a mentality. Youth and inexperience will sometimes lead to less-than-stellar mental preparation and focus, but he says that has to change.

"It's not about fundamentals," Stewart said. "It's not about technique. It's about wanting to make the play. You have to have the same attitude you have in a game, in practice. If you don't have that attitude, you are practicing a certain way... In a game you end up doing the same thing, so we have to continue to work hard in practice. You have to want to make the play."

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