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August 10, 2010Speaking after Monday afternoon's practice session, North Carolina head coach Butch Davis said that it was unquestionably the best workout the team has had so far in camp.
The Tar Heels won't start hitting until Thursday---their fifth practice of training camp took place Tuesday morning---but Davis expressed optimism that the team has made a little bit of progress after a bit of a sluggish early start Friday and over the weekend.
"I guess probably the best way to maybe kind of start is to talk a little bit about how practice was (Monday)," Davis said. "I felt like---and I told the players at the end of practice when I called them up---I said that this was legitimately, probably the first really good practice that we've had since training camp started."
"Early it took some time---guys feeling their way, freshmen not maybe necessarily knowing the speed, the tempo of the drills and how we go about doing things."
"I thought the practice today was outstanding. I thought that the effort was really good," Davis added. "I thought the leaders and the seniors on the football team really pushed everybody."
"The speed in which we were able to practice and the number of plays that we made during practice was very good."
Davis gave praise to several veterans and younger players for their efforts.
"In the receivers today Joshua Adams and Dwight Jones made some really, really good plays today. I thought Ryan Taylor at tight end and H-Back made some very good plays today," he said.
"Shaun (Draughn) and Ryan (Houston) ran the ball really well, but the guy that really ran good today was Johnny White," Davis added. "Defensively Deunta Williams made some outstanding plays in the secondary, as did some of the young guys."
Davis also made specific note about a key member of the team that doesn't get talked about very much---place kicking holder and special teams mainstay Trase Jones.
A former walk-on, Jones is now one of 23 scholarship seniors on the North Carolina roster, and Davis expanded on his value to the Tar Heels.
"You have to have guys in your program like Trase," he said. "When you think about here's a guy that came in from high school, he was a quarterback. He's come in and he's returned punts in games for us."
"He's a holder and does a phenomenal job," Davis continued. "I mean, Casey (Barth) has the utmost trust and respect and belief that he's going to do that very well. He's played roles on other special teams for us."
Davis feels that Jones would have been on scholarship at UNC much earlier in his career had the rules allowed him to make such a player a bigger priority in high school.
"With the reduction of the number of scholarships from the days when you had 150, 135 guys on scholarship, there's no question a guy like Trase would be on scholarship (from the beginning) because of his value to the football team," he said.
Davis says that there are several positions within the UNC roster where fierce competition could lead to some reconsideration as to who starts over the course of training camp.
Even with the overwhelming majority of last year's starters returning, there are young players staking their claim for time on the field.
"We're starting to have some real significant position competition," he said. "There's some guys that are pushing some people, and some of that push is coming from guys, some have been here for a little while and we needed them to step up, and some are from some of the new guys."
The Tar Heels have made special teams a particular focus in the first few days of camp, focusing on situational aspects of the game that could make a big difference on gamedays.
We've spent for the last four practices, we spent some significant amount on introducing some of our special teams stuff," Davis said. "We worked exclusively (Monday) on punt protection and cover, and it's an area that we didn't feel like that we did as well as we did last year as we needed to do, so we've tried to add a little bit of an extra there."
Davis seems to have a genuine sense of ease in terms of this team's overall experience and football knowledge---making it so the coaches can expect more out of them this August.
But he firmly states that the Tar Heels will never let anything get out of the way of teaching fundamental football this time of year.
"I think that we don't have to always try to preach about the expectations of what we want out of every single practice. We don't have to go back to Square One, to start over," he said.
"Clearly we're so much further advanced just simply because of the carry-over---guys that have played in games, guys that have played the schemes, older guys that can teach younger guys. It's a dramatic difference."
"But we'll never, ever get away in training camp from the emphasis on fundamentals," he added.
"If you're not fundamentally sound it doesn't really matter how many schemes and 'X's' and 'O's' you can draw up. You've got to be good at tackling, blocking, and making sure that you're fundamentally sound."
While building solid fundamentals and good football habits is naturally a core focus of any training camp, another big component is trying to build quality depth across the board.
"That's one of the goals. We talked before that training camp started---one of the goals of these 29 practices was to create more depth on this football team at a variety of positions," he said.
The Tar Heels switched Tuesday and Thursday's practice sessions in order to better accommodate the intense heat expected in Chapel Hill in the coming days.
Instead of practicing in the mid-afternoon, the sessions were pushed up to the morning hours on those particular days.