Butch Davis Wednesday Post-Practice:
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* Reports during offseason workouts suggested that defensive end Hilee Taylor was poised for a breakout senior season. Somebody had quality information, as the Laurinburg, N.C. native ranks sixth nationally in sacks (8) and 11th nationally in tackles for loss (12.5), while also forcing three fumbles.
“He has a lot of versatility,” Davis said. “He’s got great speed. He’s got excellent athletic ability. He reminds me a great deal of a guy that I coached at the Dallas Cowboys in Charles Haley, from the standpoint that he’s not the prototype defensive end. He’s not Reggie White – he’s not 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, but he plays with good leverage and I think he has versatility.
“When Charles came into the league and won the first two Super Bowls of his career with the [San Francisco] 49ers, he played a position at that time was called a hybrid, it was kind of called an elephant position – a guy that could play down in nickel, [and] he could stand up as an outside linebacker.”
Davis believes those qualities bode well a future in the National Football League, especially considering various teams employ the 3-4 defensive scheme these days.
“I think that Hilee will absolutely have a lot of football in his future,” Davis said. “I know that [during] the open date, we had a lot of pro scouts that came in here and a lot of them are very, very interested in him.”
* If there was any concern that the players might have had a hard time picking themselves up off the mat following last weekend’s 37-10 debacle in Winston-Salem, the first-year UNC head coach put it to rest on Wednesday night.
“I don’t know about motivation, but I think there’s been some extra effort,” Davis said. “I think that our focus has been good, the intensity’s been good.”
Turnovers and special teams blunders continue to plague North Carolina, as the Tar Heels have the second-most giveaways in the ACC (20), and their coverage units rank in the bottom-third nationally.
“If we don’t improve on our ability to protect the football and take care of it, then that in and of itself is enough to ensure the fact that you’re going to have a hard time winning,” Davis said. “The turnover differential is such an important part of the game. And certainly special teams – I think that that’s another thing where we’ve tried to work extremely hard again this week to minimize big plays in the kicking game.”
* Six different players (not including quarterback T.J. Yates) were credited with rushing attempts in Saturday’s loss, which just happens to be the exact number of Tar Heels that caught receptions in the contest.
Johnny White led all rushers with 34 yards on six carries, while three wide receivers combined for 28 yards on six attempts. Davis indicated those odd statistics where part of the plan.
“In some respects, that’s what we wanted to do,” Davis said. “We want to try to have as efficient of a running game as possible. Try to get the ball into the hands of guys that can make plays, and some of the guys can make plays in different formations and different personnel groupings. I think that every game plan that we’ve drawn up offensively, we’ve tried as hard as we can, not only to spread the ball around, but certainly to get as many of these guys involved in the game plan.”
* One of the players utilized in the running game was junior wide receiver Brandon Tate. After serving solely as a return man in his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, Tate has evolved into a weapon in offensive coordinator John Shoop’s offense. The Burlington, N.C. native currently leads the ACC in all-purpose yards with 156.25 yards per game on a whopping 18.4 yards per play average.
“I think [the stat] personally speaks to his versatility,” Davis said. “… The role for Brandon is big plays in the passing game, [and] he’s provided some opportunities in the running game to kind of enhance our running game. I think it also speaks to the fact of where he has come in his career. Because he was probably a little-known entity other than as a returner last year and I think that what it’s done is augmented his entire career and made him a viable, big-time player in our offense.”
* Long before Davis became a successful collegiate coach, he played a variety of positions on the football field for Bixby High School in Bixby, Oklahoma – linebacker, fullback and running back, to name just a few. As the 55-year-old recalls, he never had much choice.
“My father was the coach, so when the coach says, ‘This week, so and so is hurt, you’re playing that position,’ that’s where you played,” Davis said. “When your dad’s the coach, you play wherever.”
Davis would see action at defensive end during his first three games at the University of Arkansas, before playing wide receiver and tight end toward the end of his freshman season. Head coach Frank Broyles and his staff moved the multi-dimensional athlete to outside linebacker in the spring of his sophomore season, which is when knee injuries essentially ended his playing career.
“The first time was in the Red-White spring game, and then I got hurt in the fall the week before I think we were playing Stanford,” Davis said. “Stanford had Jim Plunkett and he was going to win the Heisman that year and it was going to be in Little Rock, and I got hurt the week before the game. That was frustrating and disappointing, and it kind of started a cycle that it was like I got well just enough to practice an awful lot and not play very much.”