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March 30, 2011

Spring Football Notebook

North Carolina returned to practice on Wednesday---albeit indoors.

With rain pouring down and cold temperatures turning it into a glum afternoon in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels went into the Eddie Smith Indoor Facility for its session.

"We're practicing indoors today," said UNC head coach Butch Davis.

"We had to make a call probably about 10:00 this morning. The weather was deteriorating---it was cold, it was rainy, the field is basically kind of submerged---and in the cooperative spirit of sharing the facilities in the spring time with the track team and stuff, we had to make a call."

"It's always good when you come inside. The noise is a little bit up and the kids are always running around," Davis added.

Wednesday's practice, according to Davis, was preparation for an intense practice session to come on Friday.

"It's an installation day in preparation for a little bit more of a physical practice on Friday," said Davis.

On the whole Davis says he's pleased with the way practices have gone so far this spring, and he was particularly impressed with certain aspects of this past weekend's scrimmage.

"Practices have gone well. We were really pleased. We had about a 65-play scrimmage this past weekend. We thought there were some good things. There were some revealing things. There are some young kids that are making some progress," Davis said.

Davis gave specific praise to defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, along with some of the team's young offensive linemen and running backs.

"We felt good about some of the new guys that we were looking at," said Davis.

"We thought that some of the young offensive line guys---Landon Turner, T.J. Leifheit---some of the guys that are kind of flying under the radar, they made some good strides."

"Quarterback-wise, we thought that Bryn (Renner) was very efficient," Davis added.

"He made some good throws. We ran the ball relatively well. We kind of split the reps between Hunter Furr and Ryan Houston and Travis Riley and a lot of those guys. Giovanni Bernard, he didn't take any of the scrimmage reps."

"I think we averaged a little bit over four and a half yards per rushing attempt, which is a pretty good, productive day as far as running the football. So far, so good," Davis continued.

Another young player who has been impressive this spring is redshirt freshman receiver Sean Tapley. Davis touched on his progression in recent weeks.

"He (Tapley) has done good. I think that we're all excited about the fact he's got really good hands and he appears to have good 'run after catch.'" Davis said.

"There's a difference between being on the scout team and looking really good on the scout team, and going full-speed against the starting defensive secondary, but we're encouraged (with Tapley)."

"He's practicing hard and he's making some plays, so it's been an encouraging spring," Davis added.

The fifth-year UNC head coach also touched on Thursday's Pro Day, in which representatives of every National Football League team will convene on Chapel Hill to evaluate Carolina's sizable crop of pro-ready talents.

"Obviously there's a lot of buzz in the football world about tomorrow's Pro Day. We're going to have 19 players work out---the seniors and the guys that were dismissed," Davis said.

"We've gotten responses from all 32 of the NFL teams. 11 head coaches have responded that they will attend tomorrow's practices and workouts."

Davis mentioned the extreme remorse that players like Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn and Greg Little have in their actions last year that resulted in their dismissals.

He hopes that Thursday's Pro Day will provide some closure and a turning of the page, so to speak.

"For the suspended guys, they're kids, and they've learned a lesson and they've paid an enormous price," said Davis. "They paid a price that cost them their entire eligibility during their senior year or their junior year. They will have learned a huge lesson from that."

"But after that, you've got to move on, and I think they've been extremely remorseful and they couldn't have apologized more times, and I'm sure they'll continue do to that in future years."

"But it (Thursday's Pro Day) is an opportunity to kind of move on, turn the page and look forward to the future of this program," Davis added.

One of the major concerns for the Tar Heels offensively this spring is at tight end, where UNC has only two scholarship players currently at that position and a third player who's technically an H-Back.

"We don't have the depth clearly this spring (at tight end), because we're counting on some young freshmen to come in next year and provide some of that depth," said Davis.

"We're very pleased with what Nelson Hurst has been able to do as a blocker. He got a pretty good dose of it last year on a limited experience."

Christian Wilson has been in and out of the lineup as a backup behind either Zack Pianalto or Ryan Taylor over the last two years, and he has dramatically changed his game."

Davis has been impressed with Wilson's physicality so far during spring drills.

"This is the most physical that I've seen him (Wilson). He's blocking better than ever. He's a pretty good athlete. He catches the ball really well," he said.

A major disappointment as it relates to tight ends is the fact that redshirt freshman Sean Fitzpatrick has been on the shelf in recent practices with a leg injury.

"If there's a disappointment in that entire group is that Sean Fitzpatrick, the redshirt freshman---we really needed him to come in this spring and have a good spring for us to evaluate him and for him to grow---but he pulled he hamstring after like the third practice. And so he's not been back out," said Davis.

"We have somewhat guarded optimism that he might return to practice next week, but certainly depth is an issue at that position."

Davis concluded his discussion on Wednesday with some dialogue on new defensive line coach Joe Robinson and his insertion into the Carolina program.

"I think it's very good (the relationship between the players and Coach Robinson)," said Davis.

It's been a real advantage for Robinson that he's already worked with several members of Carolina's staff.

"Like any coach, when you join a staff (of coaches you're familiar with) you have a built-in advantage, because he's got a working relationship. He worked with Charlie Williams at Arizona," said Davis.

"He (Robinson) has known Everett Withers and Troy Douglas for a long period of time. So that obviously gives you immediate inclusion into the coaching fraternity on a staff."

"Like anybody else, when you inherit a position group, it's like any other relationship," Davis continued. "Each day gets better and better, gets stronger. The players, the more that they practice with him (Robinson), and he's allowed to teach them and show them things on the field, they realize what an impact that he can have on in their career."

Davis is pleased with the way Robinson has come in and brought encouragement to the players in practice, along with a demanding hand.

"He's got a great personality. He's a terrific teacher," said Davis of Robinson.

"I love his demeanor at practice because he's demanding, he's fair, he's honest, but he's a real encourager. He's somebody that's always looking for positive things in these players, and I think that will just continue to grow."







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