Several Heels Standing Out
Inside Carolina
Posted Aug 5, 2008

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina completed just its fifth practice of training camp on Tuesday afternoon, but several players have already been singled out by head coach Butch Davis for their early strong performances at Navy Field.

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Butch Davis Tuesday Post-Practice:
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“So far, so good,” Davis said following his team’s first day of practice in pads. “The tempo’s been good. I told the players the other day, I said, ‘There’s two ways of going about training camp – You can work like mules, which is not very smart and you’d be working hard, or you can work like thoroughbreds.’ And I think that they’ve chosen the latter.”

The question on everybody’s mind heading into training camp was incumbent starting quarterback T.J. Yates and his surgically repaired right shoulder, and Davis calmed any of those fears only seconds into his post-practice press conference.

“T.J. is doing a good job throwing,” Davis said. “He’s not showed any kind of ill effects, so our speculation is that the worst has past certainly this past spring and he should be fine for the rest of the fall.”

As expected, the highly-touted defensive tackle unit has lived up to its billing through five days.

“One of the real pleasant surprises is the defensive line,” Davis said. “Their intensity, trying to develop that depth. Marvin Austin, obviously, is doing a very good job, but Aleric Mullins and Tydreke Powell and Cam Thomas – all four of those guys are going to be extraordinarily instrumental to having a good four man rotation inside.”

But the defensive ends have also displayed some ability at the position of most concern on the defensive side of the ball.

“E.J. Wilson had an outstanding practice yesterday,” Davis said. “He was bigger, stronger [and] more physical at the point of attack. He’s doing some really good stuff. And Greg Elleby is doing a really nice job, so the defensive line is off to a very good start.”

The loss of Scott Lenahan at center last season was detrimental to the offensive line, so much that starting left guard Aaron Stahl was moved to center in the offseason to see how effective he would be in the middle. That transition appears to have been a good decision by the coaching staff.

“He has played extremely well at center,” Davis said. “He’s very, very fast, he’s smart, he’s athletic, he’s powerful and strong, and he can pull and he can run. That’s a real plus when your center can be somebody that is that mobile and can be a part of any of the blocking schemes that you worry about trying to get to the second level against very fast, athletic linebackers.”

The offensive line will be called on to help boost the running game’s production from last fall, which was among the league’s worst at 99.2 yards per game. Greg Little showed some promise during the Georgia Tech and Duke games last November, but the Tar Heels need to build depth behind the sophomore.

“We’re going to need more than just Greg Little,” Davis said. “As optimistic as we are and as good as we think he’s going to be, we really need some other guys to contribute to the success of this running game.”

The second-year head coach mentioned red-shirt sophomore Anthony Elzy, sophomore Ryan Houston, red-shirt freshman Devon Ramsay and freshman Jamal Womble as possible candidates to emerge behind Little, but he also pointed out one other player new to the position.

“One guy that I really need to say something good about is Shaun Draughn,” Davis said. “He had played running back in high school, and he asked for the opportunity after spring practice, thinking that it might be an opportunity for him to contribute.

“He’s got a chance to be a really significant contributor on special teams and he’s done some really nice things. He’s got some running skills… The one thing that separates all running backs is vision. Some kids have it and some kids don’t… Shaun’s got that.”

Draughn’s move from safety highlights the depth at that position for defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Everett Withers, with Deunta Williams, Trimane Goddard and Da’Norris Searcy providing viable options in the secondary.

But North Carolina also returns two starters at cornerback in sophomores Charles Brown and Kendric Burney -- the former of which who made significant progress during the offseason.

“[Burney’s] probably one of the most improved in the secondary,” Davis said. “I think it was an enormous benefit to him to not go through baseball this past spring. He certainly understands the schemes better. He had an excellent summertime working with [strength and conditioning coach] Jeff Connors – he really worked on his speed… I think he’s made some real strides in that area.”

North Carolina will hold its first two-a-day on Wednesday, and then the Tar Heels will experience their first scrimmage of the preseason on Saturday.

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