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July 25, 2009So much of what happens during the fall for a football team is constructed during the heat of the summer months.
UNC coach Butch Davis said this week that his Tar Heels have been making the strides that should show progress when the team actually hits the field soon.
"Far and away, this is the best summer that we've had," Davis said. "We have an award we give kids for participation, how much improvement, how hard they work, their dedication. [Strength coach Jeff Connors] is pretty tough on them.
"The first year, I think we had 11. Last year we had 18. This year we had 40 who are going to be recipients of that, so that is definitely moving in the right direction."
Davis spoke at the annual Triangle Pigskin Preview, which brings together the coaches from UNC, N.C. State, Duke and North Carolina Central to unofficially kickoff the football season by talking some ball before a ballroom full of fans at a Triangle hotel.
There are always a few off-the-way questions as well. One of those directed at Davis had to do with his nicknames. He said his mother gave him the nickname "Butch" because she did not want him to be "Little Paul" after his dad as he is a junior. But he said he had another one when he was really young.
"I had red hair and freckles all through elementary school," Davis said. "When they couldn't remember your name, they would say, 'Red, come here.'"
These days Davis is known as a winner, and to achieve that status again this fall, he will need for some young wide receivers to make some significant progress.
"We've got to replace an awfully lot of talented players offensively," Davis said. "We lose five wide receivers, three of whom that got drafted, a tight end that got drafted in the second round.
"There is some work to be done during the season in hoping those kids will come on and mature and gain some experience and be able to play."
Davis said the Tar Heels are not going to shy from passing the ball just because the receivers will be young.
Davis said the coaching staff is going to count on junior Greg Little to help his less-experienced teammates at that position.
"We're going to do what we believe in," Davis said. "We're going to count on some incoming freshmen to provide some playing time. But we do have some kids who are on campus. Greg Little is a guy we are going to count significantly on. Greg is a terrific athlete. We've used him as a wide receiver. We've used him as a running back throughout his first two years at Chapel Hill.
"I really think that long range the best position for him is as a wide receiver. We just didn't have anybody of the caliber you could win with in the ACC at running back was the necessity of moving him there. But with the emergence of Shaun Draughn and the emergence a little bit of Ryan Houston we were able to put him back at his natural position. So we're going to count on him to be the experienced, veteran guy."
The Tar Heels went from a losing record in Davis' first year at UNC to winning eight games and playing in a bowl a year ago. He said the team is not going to stand still on what it has done so far.
"We were proud of the progress we made from year one to year two, and like all the rest of the coaches," Davis said, "we're still in the process of trying to build enough depth that you're not trying to reload with incoming freshmen. At some of the positions, I think we have some depth.
"You always want to push the meter and be better the next year," Davis said. "Hopefully, we'll try to do that this year."