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July 21, 2011Tar Heel Illustrated was front and center at the Washington Duke Inn Thursday afternoon as UNC head coach Butch Davis participated in the Triangle Pigskin Preview, a fund-raising lunch to help raise scholarship money.
Davis had several opportunities to talk about a number of different topics, starting with a long opening statement in which the fifth-year Tar Heel coach broke down his team.
"It's a big of a year of transition---a tremendous amount. We had 20 seniors on the football team last year, and probably 14 or 15 of those players played a huge amount for us at Carolina over the previous four years. A four-year quarterback in T.J. Yates and Zack Pianalto and Johnny White, and a lot of familiar names," Davis said.
"So this is a little bit of a kind of 'coming out' party to find out whether some of our young football players can step up and accept the challenges of playing."
"I think probably the strengths of our football team, for the first time, may be in the offensive line and possibly the defensive line. We've got some good young men that we think are good players that have got some talent and they've got some size, and they gained some experience last year," he continued.
"Last year's receiving corps returns intact. So those guys, we had no seniors that played for us last year, so all those guys return."
"Obviously the biggest question on our entire football team is at the quarterback position. Bryn Renner played in the fourth quarter in the Virginia ball game, and that's his only major college playing opportunity."
"He's the heir apparent to being the starter. Not only is he young and inexperienced, but all the guys behind him certainly have no experience at all playing quarterback."
"We lost three running backs last year, and so with the exception of Ryan Houston, almost every single player at the running back position are going to be truly somewhat untested, young kids."
"We think they've got some talent. We think obviously they've got some speed. But obviously time will tell as they gain some experience during the first half of the season."
"One of the biggest concerns obviously on the defensive side of the ball is the secondary. We lost several guys---Kendric Burney, Deunta Williams, and Da'Norris Searcy---that had basically started for us pretty much the last three or four seasons."
"And so that's going to be a very young and very green and very inexperienced group of players in the secondary, and so hopefully those kids will mature and grow up and accept the challenges, and we think they will."
"The kicking situation for us is an area that we really love Casey Barth. We think he's an outstanding kicker. But there's some areas in the kicking game---not only from a coverage standpoint but obviously in the punting game---that we've got to improve over last year, and really try to help us with some field position."
"But we're looking forward to the season. We're very excited about the start, and we're looking forward to seeing how some of these young players play and perform.
BUTCH DAVIS TRACK COACH?
During the 'Panel Q and A' portion of the event Thursday afternoon, Coach Davis and the other participating coaches were asked which sport they would have coached if not football.
While coaches such as East Carolina's Ruffin McNeill mentioned basketball, Duke's David Cutcliffe baseball, and N.C. State's Tom O'Brien lacrosse, Davis said it was track and field that he likely would have coached if not football.
"I think it would have probably been track. Football and track generally go hand-in-hand, and growing up as a kid I was a track athlete," Davis said.
"I think the one thing that you saw with track, it really encompasses a variety of different kids. It doesn't just solely rely on speed, the fast kids. You had to have big, strong kids in the field events. You had to have explosive kids for the pole vaulting and jumping events," Davis added.
"And then there's always a lot of kids in the school systems that are great at middle and long-distance. And so it really gave everybody regardless of your athletic ability to find your niche on a track team."
"And to be a track athlete you've got to be a pretty tough individual. You watch those guys run mile relays and mile-and-a-quarters and 800-yard races, you really find a lot of people with a lot of courage and a lot of guts."
One of hot topics at the Pigskin Preview for Coach Davis---one that has been prevailing on the minds of Tar Heel fans for months---is whether or not redshirt sophomore Bryn Renner is ready to take the reigns at quarterback.
"We're going to have to find out pretty soon (if Renner's ready)," Davis said. "Our coaching staff has been really impressed with the way that Bryn has handled his growth and development over the past two seasons."
"He went into last season a year ago really trying to challenge to try to beat T.J. Yates out, and I think it was unbelievably beneficial for both those kids. And obviously T.J. played extremely well for our football team. He was kind of the glue behind the scenes that held the football team together."
"The competitiveness, the drive that he had, but the maturity and the poise that he exhibited when he didn't win the job. I think that Bryn did a great job learning from T.J.," Davis continued.
"Those of you who have ever watched Bryn in practice---if you've ever been to one of our spring practices or our spring game he's got unbridled confidence and passion and enthusiasm---and obviously that's one of the things that you don't ever want to take away from him, but now that you're the guy in the huddle, you've got to maintain the poise."
"I fully believe, and we talked to him (Renner) about it, we're going to see some things. He's going to make some mistakes because he is young and inexperienced. But he's going to grow and he's going to get better every single week."
"He's got tremendous talent. He's got mobility and he's got a very good arm. And he's a bright kid. He loves to play the game. And he's worked extremely hard, so we've got a lot of confidence that he's the right guy. We've just got to make sure that we provide the supporting cast so that he can show what he can do."
GIVE ME A BOOK
It's well-known among those close to Coach Davis that he's a reading fanatic, and when asked about his favorite non-sports hobby on Thursday, he was quick to respond.
"Probably a little bit of reading. I like reading a variety of different things. I'm a big sports fan, so playing golf and doing all that kind of stuff with my son and my wife, takes up a big part of time, but I enjoy reading," he said.
Getting into specific discussion about the Atlantic Coast Conference, Davis mentioned not only the high level of coaching he sees within the league, but also the quality of athletes the league possesses, as evidenced by its recent run of selections in the spring's NFL Draft.
"The one thing that stands out (in the ACC) is the level of coaching. I mean, this is a very, very well-coached league, just the quality of the head coaches from top to bottom all the way through," said Davis.
"But the thing that surprised me more than anything else (about the ACC)---and I had been at Miami playing against Florida and Florida State and a lot of teams---was how much speed was in this conference, the number of kids that are in this league that can flat-out run."
"David (Cutcliffe) talked about his own football team (at Duke), the pursuit and the quest to become a faster football team. You have to in this league to survive, because between the Clemsons and the Florida States and the Virginia Techs and The Miamis, if you can't run, you just absolutely cannot compete," Davis continued.
"There's a tremendous amount of talent and a lot of good football players."
BUTCH'S BUCKET LIST
Each head coach was asked their 'Bucket List' of two things they'd like to do before they die.
ECU's McNeill mentioned skydiving, but that didn't strike Davis's fancy.
"Don't take me skydiving. I'm not jumping out of a plane," he joked.
Davis's two items were completely separate---one personal and one business.
"One thing I think that I've always had a little bit of a passion to want to do with my life---I hear a lot of people that have done this talk about what an unbelievable experience it would be to go to Africa and do some kind of safari," he said.
"I'm kind of addicted to 'Wild Kingdom' and all the shows on TV and you see all those things and you think, 'What would it be like?' Some of those kinds of things you hope will be here for our children and our grandchildren and stuff. And I think that's always something that I've always had an affinity to want to try to go there.
"I think probably the second thing is I want to try to bring a championship football team to North Carolina," he added.
Coach Davis expanded on the 2011 Tar Heels as the media approached him immediately following the conclusion of the luncheon.
"We've got some good young talented kids, and some kids that have kind of waited their turn for an opportunity to play and they're excited about getting started here in a couple of weeks and looking forward to this new season," Davis said.
"We had a great spring practice and had good summer conditioning program and we're looking forward to the start of training camp."
Davis said one thing that's much better about this July than last July is the fact that the team isn't feeling the heat of the 'What Ifs' not knowing who would or wouldn't be eligible.
"I think the one huge advantage that we've got this season is that obviously we don't have the drama over who can play and who can't play,' Davis said.
But there's still the fact that a bunch of young players are going to have to step up this fall for UNC if they're to make any noise in the ACC Coastal Division.
"Obviously as I said in there (earlier) today, this is a very, very young, inexperienced football team," said Davis.
"Some kids did get an opportunity to play last year that maybe wouldn't have played as much as they would have in previous years if those guys hadn't been suspended for the season."
"But having said that, when you take a look at the number of kids, those 20 seniors, 14 or 15 of them were probably either three or four year starters. You're talking about Bruce Carters, Quan Sturdivants, T.J. Yates, and Zack Pianaltos and Deunta Williams. I mean, you're talking about guys that basically played in almost every single game in my entire career at Carolina."
"So we've got a huge void from an experience standpoint, and there's no way---there's no coaching staff or any magic pill that you can give them to give them immediate experience," Davis added.
"They're going to have to gain that every single time that we go and play, and know that we have high expectations for how they're going to play. They'll gain some experience and they'll get better every single week."