Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- There is an unwavering sense of confidence that's easy to pick up on in Kenan Stadium, and it starts at the top. The players and staff talk about coach Butch Davis like he's got all the answers and a foolproof plan to elevate the program to a championship-caliber level.
These guys aren't afraid to get after each other in practice and try new things, throw the ball a little differently. They're really pushing the competition, and bringing in some top-notch players so that when, say, the entire receiving corps needs to be replaced, there's not a sense of panic. (Speaking of which, Josh Adams does NOT look like a freshman. He's tall, and lean and strong, but he's still learning and T.J. Yates has to hit him in the numbers).
"It's the culture coach Davis brings," offensive coordinator John Shoop said. "Everything is a competition."
The quarterbacks rave about Shoop, who can be seen in a full-sprint from one of the practice fields to another.
From the first to the second year under Davis, the Tar Heels became a smarter football team and played better situational ball. They improved on third downs and in the red zone last year. Two areas they're still looking for significant improvement in are two-minute situations and ball security.
"We practice purposely," Shoop said. "We don't just go out there and run plays. We know this is third down now. Everybody knows. We've got to do a little better two-minute wise. We've got to do a lot better holding on to the football. We coach a heck of a lot in terms of ball security with everybody that carries it. If we just eliminate some of those fumbles the last third of the year, we win some of those games. That's something we have to coach better and our players have to take more seriously.
"We're not careless with the ball, but we have to keep it high and tight every time. We don't throw careless interceptions, and we don't carry it loose, but we can do better."
Shoop said he expects the running game to be "a lot better." He seemed excited about freshman Jamal Womble from Arizona. He's a short, stocky player who looks like a powerful runner. Womble finished his senior season with 1,787 yards and 21 touchdowns on 170 carries, setting his high school's career and season rushing records. He also set a school record with five touchdowns in one game.
"We have a chance to be as strong as we've ever been there," he said. "Conceptually our entire offense has the concepts down. They know what's married to what -- the play-action pass that goes with the misdirection -- they totally get it. We can make the same things look different and different things look the same. We can do it. That's going to help us."