The time has finally arrived to see how the 2008 Carolina football team will perform.
Since the 2007 team played so hard but fell short so often, Carolina fans have been excited yet unsure of what to expect. Some predictions are off the chart, people anticipating a division title, 10 wins, crazy stuff for a team that won four games a year ago.
Or is it?
That is what no one can honestly answer until we begin to see this team play ball. Thankfully, at 6 p.m. on Saturday, UNC will kickoff against McNeese State, and we will get a taste of what a year's experience, an infusion of some more athletes and what the players and coaches claim is a year's worth of rigorous hard work will produce.
Safety Deunta Williams said that the offense showed him something in summer camp.
"They are a lot tougher this year," Williams said. "Greg Little is running the ball a lot harder. Jamal Womble is talented, but especially Shuan Draughn. You have to come with a hunger, and that is what he has done.
"Overall, we're just a more physical team this year than last year."
A more physical team is an improvement. In fact, the more physical the better. The more players who get to the ballcarrier and hit him as hard as possible, the greater the opportunity for turnovers, and this team needs, in the worst possible way, to force more turnovers.
If Carolina can consistently finish on the positive side of the turnover margin, the Tar Heels will win.
The other important goal is stopping the run. If the Tar Heels can control the line of scrimmage with their big defensive tackles, it will only enhance their ability to win games.
"I think we're making some strides," Davis said. "Run defense, truly, it's a collective effort. So many times it certainly starts with the defensive line. It actually starts with those guys. They can't get knocked off the ball. We've got to have anchor points. We've got to have dynamic guys that can get penetration and disrupt blocking schemes."
Paschal said that with Carolina's strength at defensive tackle, particularly Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas, the Tar Heels have those anchor points.
"I think we have some of the best defensive tackles in the country," Paschal said. "They do a great job of securing their gap and keeping guys off me, and without them my job is nearly impossible.
"Marvin is obvious, but who has really surprised me is big Cam. He's has done a phenomenal job. He is going to be a force to be reckoned with. He is so powerful. He'll be one to really look for."
Offensively, the Tar Heels should finally have a running game. The offensive line has been sound in the preseason, and the running backs have emerged as true playmakers.
"Greg is one of the better athletes on the team, and so is Shaun," Sturdivant said. "I think it will be a one-two punch. They have made us much better. They have a lot experience.
"They make the defense as a whole better, not just the linebackers. They make everybody better. They have a great offensive line. You have to go hard at those guys. They go hard every day. They bring it."
The coaching staff certainly challenged the defense, making it perform from a base formation so that players would have to reveal their instincts without cheating by knowing what was coming.
"The whole theory behind that is you don't want to make calls that put kids on the ball," Davis said. "It's easy to call a stunt that you know a defensive lineman can run under the blocks and disrupt the blocking scheme. But you really want kids to develop the confidence, that if they have to, at any given moment, if there is something unusual happens in a ball game and they come out in formations and start running plays [you did not anticipate], you say, 'You know what, we're going to base defense; we're going to line up; we're going to attack the line of scrimmage; we're going to shed escape and run fast, and see who can instinctively make plays without blitz making it for them, or a stunt making it for them or a secondary blitz.
"You want guys who have to just go cover guys and play the scheme. Throughout all of training camp, there were probably 60 to 70 percent of our practices where somewhat like that. We practiced the other stuff, too, so that they can know it and execute it, but you find out we have some guys who have some football instincts."
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