Butch Davis Post-Practice
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* While the offensive line woes have dominated the headlines this preseason, junior safety Matt Merletti’s season-ending ACL injury took away North Carolina’s starting nickel back. Unfortunately for defensive coordinator Everett Withers, finding an adequate alternate hasn’t been as easy as one would hope.
“We’re kind of having auditions with our nickel back,” Davis said. “We’ve taken a look at some guys – Melvin Williams is one of them [and] some of the young incoming corners like Gene Robinson, Terry Shankle, Mywan Jackson.”
But as Davis continues to stock his cupboards with premium talent, his options for finding alternates increase dramatically. Citing Darrin Smith’s role with the Dallas Cowboys and Dan Morgan’s ability at Miami, the third-year UNC head coach suggested that a certain speedy linebacker may be able to do the job well enough to stay on the field in obvious passing downs.
“A lot of times, you may not even want to take your weakside linebacker [out] if he’s got enough speed and athleticism,” Davis said. “Zach Brown has clearly got enough speed and he’s fast enough that it doesn’t necessarily mean that just because the other team goes three wide receivers that you automatically have to match up.”
* Saturday’s scrimmage turned out to be a success, as the Tar Heels were able to work in approximately 60 total snaps before a thunderstorm converged on Kenan Stadium. As Inside Carolina reported over the weekend, the practice session consisted of a laundry list of scripted plays.
“The only thing that was different from a traditional game situation was that we scripted the down-and-distance, because we wanted certain things to come up,” Davis said. “We wanted some 2nd-and-10s and some 2nd-and-5s. We wanted some 3rd-and-shorts and some 3rd-and-mediums, and we didn’t know if we would get that in a traditional scrimmage… The coaching staff left the field and felt like that playmakers made plays. We got some productivity out of the receivers – I think five different guys at the wide receiver position had multiple catches.”
Davis also indicated that his quartet of quarterbacks were “very efficient.”
“Braden Hanson had a great day,” Davis said. “He was 5-for-5. Bryn Renner, I think he was 4-for-6 and I think he threw one touchdown.”
There were a handful of freshmen that stood out during the scrimmage, including RB A.J. Blue, RB Hunter Furr, WR Jhay Boyd, WR Josh Adams, DB Gene Robinson, DB Mywan Jackson, OL Brennan Williams and OL Travis Bond. LB Kevin Reddick provided the highlight of the afternoon with an interception return for touchdown that prompted this response from Davis: "If he had been starting for three years, he couldn't have played the coverage any better."
* Here is your obligatory UNC offensive line update:
“I think our first offensive line has had a really solid camp,” Davis said. “I will tell you that our second offensive line has made really significant growth, and I’m not just trying to [sugarcoat] them. They’ve put their nose to the grindstone. They’ve worked very, very hard, and I think the best thing is that they’ve stayed healthy so that now you get a chance for those five guys to develop some continuity.”
* The secondary has taken advantage of training camp to improve on its skills since spring practice, as the third-year UNC head coach praised various defensive backs and specifically highlighted the development of backup strong safety Melvin Williams.
In addition to the Kevin Reddick-Zach Brown clash at weakside linebacker, the only other position battle of note is at the cornerback spot opposite of Kendric Burney between Jordan Hemby and Charles Brown.
“I think it’s too close to call,” Davis said. “I think it’s very similar to the Will linebacker position with Kevin Reddick and Zach Brown. They’re battling every day. I think that Jordan has become a lot more consistent. I think he’s playing the ball better. No one ever questions his speed – he’s got all of the speed and foot quickness and ability to flip his hips… It may be that right now we may only have three corners – that one may be the backup to both sides.”
* North Carolina worked on its two-minute drill for the sixth time of training camp on Monday afternoon – a move designed to familiarize and prepare the Tar Heels for potentially a season-long slate of tight contests.
“We found ourselves in a lot of ball games last year that we either successfully executed the defensive phase of it or the offensive phase, as we did against Notre Dame and won the game, and then against Virginia, where we didn’t [turn out] as good,” Davis said.
* With 15 returning starters from ‘08, there hasn’t been much room for any new faces to make a significant splash this training camp. Defensive-lineman-turned-offensive-lineman Greg Elleby and Reddick have received most of the ink in that regard, but red-shirt sophomore Devon Ramsay earned his head coach’s praise on Monday after battling back from shoulder surgery last fall.
“He’s a 245-pound kid that runs a 4.5,” Davis said. “We’ve been waiting on him to kind of emerge a little bit, and I think he’s done that. He’s showed some toughness, some physicalness. He’s helping on special teams [and] he’s catching the ball out of the backfield, so I think that’s been a pleasant surprise.”