Finishing Touches

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Head coach Butch Davis spoke to reporters following Wednesday's practice, as the Tar Heels prepare for their season opener against McNeese State on Saturday evening.

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Butch Davis Wednesday Post-Practice:
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* In Davis' first season at North Carolina, his coordinators took a unique approach in calling the Tar Heels' ball games. Instead of OC John Shoop and DC Chuck Pagano utilizing a birds-eye view in the coaches' box, they both roamed the sidelines along with their players. The reason was simple – with new systems and 50-plus young men that had never seen live college football action, it allowed the coordinators to talk to their players and answer the numerous questions that were bound to arise.

But even with new defensive coordinator Everett Withers taking the field with the Tar Heels for the first time on Saturday night, Davis indicated that the Charlotte, N.C. native will join Shoop in the box now that this team has 18 months of work under their belts.

"All of the places that I had ever coached before, the coordinators were in the box," Davis said. "It gives them not only an opportunity to see the field better and see personnel groupings, but it cuts down one extra communication between someone in the box to somebody on the sidelines to identify what the other team's personnel is getting into. And I think it's a little easier – I know from being a coordinator with the Cowboys – that it's a little bit more of a quiet environment to collect your thoughts. You're not caught up in all of the chaos.

"Last year, [former defensive coordinator] Chuck [Pagano] chose to be on the sideline because it was our first year, and he was so familiar with our defensive package. And at that time [linebackers coach] Tommy [Thigpen] and some of the other coaches weren't as familiar with some of the adjustments that might have been necessary… had Chuck have stayed, he would gone upstairs this year."

* North Carolina has signed three consecutive solid recruiting classes, with the last two being under Davis' direction. While some of those individuals are immediate impact players, what most of the underclassmen represent is the future of Tar Heel football. But even though they may not be making noise on Saturdays quite yet, they're providing a valuable resource for this program by dramatically improving the athleticism of the scout team.

"Although they're still young guys – you're still talking about those 15 true freshmen and some of the red-shirt freshmen – the [two-deep] guys notice how much better the scout team look is," Davis said. "A year ago, our scout teams were pretty much comprised at least 50 percent or more by walk-ons. That's not to diminish the fact that walk-ons are very important and we love having them here… But it's really helped the preparation significantly."

* Davis has done his best to deflect questions surrounding the starting placekicker position, typically by injecting humor about Terrence Brown having secured the punter job – a role he excelled in last fall. But on Wednesday night, the second-year head coach admitted to some apprehension about potentially sending two first-timers in freshmen Casey Barth and Jay Wooten onto the field against McNeese State.

"I have some nervous anxiety about it, just from the standpoint that you know as a coach how critical the kickers are," Davis said. "There's probably going to be anywhere from 15-20 kicks during the course of the ball game of some nature, and every one of those is so critical. They're such big plays in a ball game that you want to be perfect on extra points [and] you'd love to be 100 percent on field goals inside the 42-yard line."

And although North Carolina is willing to implement a kicker-by-committee approach if needed, Davis stressed that his young kickers should keep their focus extremely narrow.

"The kick that they go in the game [for] is the only one they need to worry about," Davis said. "Don't worry about the past one, don't worry about the next one and don't worry about the next game. And whoever is there kicking, we expect them to perform and to do well."

It should be noted that the apprehension is more about their inexperience and not their capabilities. Davis expects an improved unit by the end of the season.

"I think they'll grow," Davis said. "I think that they will get better as the season goes along [and] as they get comfortable."

* Speaking of the inexperience factor, it was almost one year to the day that Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter, Marvin Austin and a host of other freshmen were playing in their first Division I college football contest. Twelve months and twelve games later, those players are now a big reason that North Carolina was picked second in the ACC's Coastal Division.

"You can just see daylight to dawn how much more progress they've made in the last six months because of the confidence and because of the experience that they got to play last year," Davis said. "I think that you see it evidenced in the way in which that they practice, the way in which they carry themselves around the building and the way they study [the game]. They have a greater appreciation of what to expect on Saturday. They know there're going to be challenges. They know that you [have to] be prepared for game day."

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