The Tar Heels held their first-full contact scrimmage of the fall on an unusually pleasant August morning today. "It was a very good practice for a first scrimmage," Butch Davis said afterward. "I like how hard our players are working. Every day they've gone out there and tried to get better in every phase of the things that we've practiced."
Davis let his defense do some heavy lifting today. "We didn't want to try to help them make plays," he said. "We wanted to just see guys line up, read, react, get off of blocks and make plays."
`Full-speed live,' as Davis calls it, is when coaches find out a lot about players' off-season conditioning, and how they are progressing in learning wrinkles in schemes. Nothing tests a football player quite like getting hit.
"They executed the running game really well, T.J. made some good decisions throwing the football, and I thought the second group did the exact same thing."
"You definitely find out who's in shape, who can go a whole series, which lineman can stay in there," Hakeem Nicks said. "All we have to do is put it to the test."
Right tackle Garrett Reynolds said today's scrimmage was not too different from a typical practice, from a lineman's standpoint. "When (Davis) says `full-speed live,' that means they're tackling the running backs, so that means `finish your blocks,' but at the same time, watch out for your guys. No cheap shots and make sure you're taking care of your teammates," Reynolds said. "It's a great opportunity to see where you are, and know how mentally prepared you are while you're tired or fatigued."
Nicks said scrimmages are for bragging rights, too. The first team offense won't go against the first team defense during practice, as both units will more often face scout teams. So players on both sides of the ball want to win when they can. "It's definitely fun, because this is the only time that we get to go at it." Nicks said it's important to play smart when scrimmaging, making plays but not getting anyone hurt. "We've got a few guys nicked up here and there, but at the same time, you've got to go hard and push each other the way that we're going to play Saturday." <!-- STORY AD BEGINS HERE -->
All North Carolina recruits are gifted athletes, but it's something different to add a college-level scheme to that athleticism. A scrimmage like today's will test a young player's development and adjustment to the college game, Reynolds said. "When you get here, everybody's just as good as you were in high school. The one thing that's hard for freshmen is, you can't really play 100 percent at full speed until you know exactly what you're doing. You might be playing full-speed but you're thinking so much that you're not just reacting," he said. "You might be playing fast but your'e not reacting - you've got too much thinking going on."...
No one ever figured out why, but the MetLife blimp was circling the practice field during most of Saturday's scrimmage. Football's profile in Chapel Hill is definitely on the rise when the blimp even comes out for a scrimmage. It was good practice, though, because fans can expect to see flyovers before several home games this year...The field goal kickers might have been the stars of Saturday's session. Both Jay Wooten and Casey Barth kicked well against a live rush...
The biggest offensive mover of the first week of camp was probably Shaun Draughn, who capped a strong opening week with a solid scrimmage. Draughn has taken advantage of a couple backs in front of him being banged up to move from the fringe of the tailback battle to putting himself in legitimate position to get some carries in 2008. And he's happy just to be playing football, Davis said. "I think you'd have to interview all seven-year-olds the day before Christmas to find anybody happier than Shaun," he said. "He's embraced the position, his effort and his enthusiasm for it has just been outstanding, and his performance has been very surprising."
Davis compared Draughn to Cooter Arnold's resurgence in 2007 and this spring. "Cooter kind of languished in ambiguity for a period of time, and all of a sudden last year the light came on, he grew up and matured and made some contributions. This year's fall's version of that has been Vince Jacobs and Shaun Draughn," Davis said. "If they continue to come on, they can be an enormous asset to this football team."
Something to watch in the second week of camp, which begins Monday after the players have the day off Sunday to move out of their dorm, is which freshmen begin to make a move up the depth chart. If this year follows last year's pattern, the players who can also contribute on special teams have the best chance of playing on offense or defense. Last year at this time, a couple of freshmen were obvious standouts who were clearly going to play significant snaps. It's not as clear-cut this summer, which in some ways is good news about Carolina's depth.