ACC: Mike Ingersoll
2010 conference record: 4-4
Offense: 6, defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2
WR Dwight Jones, WR Erik Highsmith, OT James Hurst, OG Jonathan Cooper, C Cam Holland, DE Quinton Coples, DT Jared McAdoo, DE Donte Paige-Moss, DT Tydreke Powell, LB Kevin Reddick, CB Charles Brown
QB T.J. Yates, TE Zack Pianalto, TB Johnny White, LB Quan Sturdivant, LB Bruce Carter, CB Kendric Burney, S Deunta Williams, S Da’Norris Searcy
2010 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Johnny White (720 yards)
Passing: T.J. Yates (3,418 yds)
Receiving: Dwight Jones* (946 yds)
Tackles: Kevin Reddick* (74)
Sacks: Quinton Coples* (10)
Interceptions: Da'Norris Searcy (4)
1. The offensive line should be the best since Butch Davis arrived in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels had to replace two starters in OT Mike Ingersoll and OG Alan Pelc, but Travis Bond has earned the starting job at right guard and Brennan Williams at right tackle. The left side of the line will be particularly strong with guard Jonathan Cooper (22 career starts), and OT James Hurst. This is also a large group, averaging 319 pounds.
2. There’s depth on the defensive line. There was enough depth this spring to move Coples from tackle back to end, his natural position. The Tar Heels have Paige-Moss at right end, Jordan Nix and Powell at tackle, and junior college transfer Sylvester Williams was pushing Nix for the starting job. Jared McAdoo has played both positions, and the staff has four tackles it feels good about.
3. Bryn Renner has taken over. Heading into the spring, Davis wouldn’t anoint Renner his 2011 starter just yet. Now, there’s no question it’s Renner’s job, as none of the other candidates came close to him this spring. True freshman Marquise Williams went through a major learning curve, and A.J. Blue and Braden Hanson didn’t close the gap.
1. Looking for a linebacker. Outside linebacker Zach Brown and middle linebacker Kevin Reddick have starting jobs locked up, but Herman Davidson and Darius Lipford will take their competition into summer camp.
2. Helping hands at tight end. Last year, 79 of the receptions were to tight ends, and Ryan Taylor and Zack Pianalto were two of the top three receivers on the team (combined for 66 catches last year). The staff recruited well at the position, but those players didn’t enroll early. Nelson Hurst, Christian Wilson and Sean Fitzpatrick were the lead candidates this spring.
3. Revamped secondary. All four starters must be replaced, but Jabari Price started the final four games at corner last season. There are six candidates for the safety positions, but Brown, Jonathan Smith and Brian Gupton all missed last season because of the NCAA investigation. Senior Matt Merletti emerged as a leader last year, safety Gene Robinson is in the mix, and safety Josh Hunter had a good spring game with six tackles and an interception. Tre Boston moved from corner to safety.
QB Russell Wilson, NC State: He threw for 275 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in what might have been his final collegiate game. He also ran for 41 yards and earned the Champs Sports Bowl’s MVP award.
RB Da'Rel Scott, Maryland: The MVP of the Military Bowl, Scott rushed for a school bowl-game record 200 yards on 13 carries. His 91-yard TD run in the fourth quarter was the longest in Maryland bowl-game history. It was also the longest Maryland touchdown in seven years and only the eighth 90-plus yard run in ACC history. He also set the school record for yards per carry in the game with 15.4.
RB Chris Thompson, Florida State: He was the Chick-fil-A Bowl's Offensive MVP after he racked up 147 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown run against the SEC's then-top-ranked rushing defense.
WR Jarvis Williams, NC State: His 3-yard touchdown reception with 3:44 remaining sealed the win over West Virginia. He finished with six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.
TE Brandon Ford, Clemson: Despite the loss to South Florida, Ford had four catches for 45 yards, including two touchdown receptions. He became the first player in Clemson history with two touchdown catches in a bowl game.
OL Jake Vermiglio, NC State: He helped the Pack score more points against West Virginia than any other opponent had all year. NC State controlled the clock and had 378 total yards.
OL Paul Pinegar, Maryland: He had three big blocks for the Terps, who rolled up season highs in rushing yards (297) and rushing touchdowns (6), including runs of 61 and 91 yards by Da’Rel Scott. The Terps also did not allow a sack to the Pirates, the 11th time the squad surrendered two or fewer on the season.
OL Rodney Hudson, FSU: He graded out at 86 percent against South Carolina and didn’t have any penalties or missed assignments. He also had two knockdowns.
OL Zebrie Sanders, FSU: He graded out at 88 percent in final game and didn’t have any penalties or missed assignments. He helped neutralize South Carolina’s pass rush.
OL Mike Ingersoll, UNC: He graded out as the team's top offensive lineman and was named one of the offensive players of the game by the coaching staff. Carolina had 180 positive rushing yards against Tennessee.
DE Brandon Jenkins, FSU: Despite the fact he missed a series-and-a-half, he finished with a team-leading eight tackles, including two TFLs and a sack.
DE Andre Branch, Clemson: On an off-day for Da’Quan Bowers, Branch stepped up and had two sacks. He finished with six tackles.
DT Quinton Coples, UNC: He finished with six tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and had two quarterback hurries in the Heels’ win over Tennessee.
DT Donte Paige-Moss, UNC: He had six tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and blocked an extra point attempt. The extra point block was key, as Carolina later kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime.
LB Nate Irving, NC State: He had four solo tackles against West Virginia and finished with one 7-yard sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and quarterback pressure and a pass breakup.
LB Quan Sturdivant, UNC: He had a season-high 12 tackles, including two tackles for losses, and made a key interception in overtime against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. Sturdivant picked off a Tyler Bray pass in the second overtime and Carolina scored on its next possession to win the game.
LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College: He no doubt looked the part of an All-America. Kuechly was the defensive MVP of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl with 12 tackles (8 solos), and one interception he returned 31 yards.
DB Greg Reid, FSU: He was named the defensive MVP of the Chick-fil-A Bowl and was an obvious choice. He finished with five tackles, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles (one that came with his hit that ended Marcus Lattimore’s night on the first series), and he had two punt returns for 53 yards leading to scores.
DB Antwine Perez, Maryland: He made eight tackles, including a game-high seven solo stops and two tackles for loss, as the Terps clamped down on the seventh-ranked passing offense in the nation. Perez had seven or more tackles in each of the last five games of the season.
DB Kendric Burney, UNC: He finished with six tackles and an 11-yard return on an interception.
DB Brandon Bishop, NC State: His fourth interception of the season was a diving interception at the West Virginia 10 in the fourth quarter. He snagged the pass intended for Jock Sanders, and prevented the Mountaineers from cutting the lead to 16-14 with plenty of time left.
K Dustin Hopkins, FSU: He nailed all four field-goal attempts against South Carolina (29 yards, 48, 35, 45), and he had four touchbacks.
P Shawn Powell, FSU: He had three punts for an average of 51 yards, and gave the Noles winning field position.
KR Greg Reid, FSU: He had one kick return for 18 yards and two punt returns for the Noles. His two punt returns led to scores.
Strongest position: Defensive backs
Key returnees: Deunta Williams, Da’Norris Searcy, Kendrick Burney and Charles Brown
Key departures: Melvin Williams
The skinny: This might be the deepest position/unit in the conference, as North Carolina returns 14 players who were defensive backs a year ago, including all four starters. UNC was 14th in the country last year in both pass efficiency defense and pass defense. Both Burney and Williams opted to return to Chapel Hill instead of enter the NFL draft and the Heels will be better for it. They combined for 11 interceptions and 314 interception return yards in 2009. Burney had five interceptions for 200 yards and two touchdowns, while also recording 52 tackles and three pass breakups. Williams led the team with six interceptions for 114 yards and had 47 tackles and eight pass breakups.
Weakest position: Offensive line
Key returnees: T Mike Ingersoll, G Alan Pelc, C Jonathan Cooper
Key departures: Kyle Jolly, Lowell Dyer
The skinny: The staff’s goal this spring and summer is to find the biggest and most athletic players up front. Cooper, the top returning player on the line, played guard last year as a redshirt freshman and will move to center this spring. That’s where the staff had hoped Cooper would wind up when they first signed him. Cam Holland will likely be relegated to a backup role. The staff recruited well at the position and will get some help immediately from James Hurst, the top recruit in the class. Both Hurst and T.J. Leifheit have already enrolled. Travis Bond started the bowl game at guard, and with Pelc, Bond and Cooper on the interior, this group could get a much-needed upgrade.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Offensive coordinator John Shoop has no quit in him. We spoke on Thursday and he didn’t sound like a coach who has been taking heat from Carolina fans since a home loss to lowly Virginia. Instead, he sounded ready to get back to work. UNC’s offense has to improve if it’s going to turn its season around. Here’s what Shoop had to say about the offense:
|Sean Meyers/Icon SMI|
|John Shoop isn't interested in making excuses for the offense's lack of production.|
John Shoop: We’ve been banged up a little bit, there’s no doubt about that. But we’ve got some quality guys and some quality players playing for us. We’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep working. I think guys like Greg Elleby, Cam Holland and Mike Ingersoll, they’re getting better every week. The season’s not done yet. We’re going to keep fighting. We’re working our tails off as a staff and working our tails off as a team. We’re going to come out and fight every single week. I love the fight in our players and our staff. We’ll be ready to go.
Where does the most improvement need to come from? What’s the focus going to be over these next two Saturdays with the bye week coming up?
JS: Well, the focus right now is on this Saturday. There is no other focus. What we’re trying to do this Saturday is protect our quarterback and create a crease in the running game. That’s our focus. We’re trying to stay out on the field and put some points up. I think we’ve had a great week of practice. It’s been an intense week of practice so far. Like I said, our guys have some fight in them.
Have you ever seen, though, so many injuries at so many key positions, going back to the offseason, the unexpected departures on the offensive line. Is this one of the most difficult situations you’ve had to work with?
JS: Here’s the deal. I get it. I’ve been through an awful lot and coach [Butch] Davis has been through an awful lot as well, and everybody understands – we’re a mature group of guys. But here’s the deal -- we’ve got to find a way to win games. It may not be sexy. It may not be what people want to see, but we’re going to try to find ways to win games. We can win this week with the plan we’re putting together and these guys who are going to play for us and fight for us -- we can win. Nobody wants to hear about all the injuries, they just want to see you win. And we’re trying to win.
Tell me about what’s going on at backup quarterback. Braden Hanson is taking over for Mike Paulus, and Bryn Renner, a superstar who may or may not redshirt.
JS: Well, I think Braden is doing a great job. He’s getting some work in practice. He’s 6-foot-6, a real cerebral guy. Really just has great instincts at the quarterback spot. And Bryn Renner is also getting an awful lot of reps in practice. They both prepare like they could go in at a moment’s notice. We want to keep it like that. We’re excited about both of those guys.
Have you been getting what you need out of T.J.?
JS: Let me say this, and I want this to be clear: T.J. Yates is a good quarterback. He’s a good quarterback, and he’s a tough son of a gun. He’s been working his tail off to do all the little things that help. In our two-deep at wideout, there are a handful of true freshmen, they’re starting as well. He does a great job helping those guys, pushing those guys every single step of the way. He’s been working his tail off with the offensive line, has become a vocal leader. At times this year, he’s played the best football I’ve ever seen him play. At times this year he’s tried to do a little bit too much. But that’s a competitive son of a gun, now. He comes out to play every week. He’s going to sit in that pocket and work to keep his eyes downfield. We’ll go to bat with T.J. any day of the week. I’m proud of the way he prepares for the game. He’s got to have more production, but we’ve got to have more production. You can’t just pinpoint it on one guy.
Part II coming up ...
Offensive linemen just can't win.
If they're good and doing their jobs well, you don't hear much about them. Instead, you hear about the talented athletes they're blocking for. If they're struggling, though, they're tagged as the root of the problem, just like Clemson's offensive line was a year ago.
After a turbulent offseason that included a few departures and injuries, North Carolina's front five are working hard to make it through this fall rather unnoticed.
"That's the motivation to be good," junior offensive guard Alan Pelc said. "There's not a lot of talk about the offensive line, but that's what we got into. We came into it knowing that, and to us it's a good thing if our name's not mentioned."
So far, UNC's O-line has been the topic of discussion for all the wrong reasons. Earlier this month, offensive tackle Carl Gaskins tore his ACL, which ended his season. Aaron Stahl decided to graduate and leave the program, foregoing a final year of eligibility. And reserve Kevin Bryant, who was charged with misdemeanor assault of a female this summer, decided not to return to the program for his sophomore season. All that while the Heels were trying to replace two starters to graduation.
"We're going to be fine," center Lowell Dyer said. "I think what a lot of people are concerned about is that there's not necessarily a lot of experience, as far as game time, but the talent is there, the technique, the knowledge. We've got people coming along. I don't think it's what everybody is making it out to be. It's certainly not something I'm losing sleep over."
The Heels have seven older players they can depend upon, and three true freshmen on scholarship who help make up the two-deep rotation. Pelc, Dyer and Kyle Jolly are the veterans of the group. Junior Mike Ingersoll, who has played at guard, center and tackle, can obviously help anywhere, but his playing time has been limited. One of the younger players worth keeping an eye on will be Jonathan Cooper, a redshirt freshman who offensive line coach Sam Pittman said is "a very fine player." Junior Greg Elleby is a reserve at left guard and left tackle, and Cam Holland is his entering his third season as a center. (He can also bench a team-best 500 pounds.)
So it's not as if there's not skill on the roster, it's just that a lack of experience leaves room for doubt -- especially when you're looking from the outside in.
"They're the cards that are dealt to us right now," Pittman said. "We're going to go out and do the very best we can. … We have seven guys that have won ball games, and so we just have to bring the young guys along. You're concerned about the injuries, but other than that, we're a pretty good offensive line out there."
All they have to do now is prove it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
I think I might be underestimating North Carolina. Butch Davis has a good football team that's hungry to win, and it learned from last year's mistakes and realized a good season could have been a great season. Here's the thing, though: Everyone else in the Coastal Division is getting better, too, and it's a tough step to go from eight wins to 10. Davis has a methodical approach to what he's doing, though, and the staff and players have bought into it. Offensive coordinator John Shoop was nice enough to give me some time on Tuesday and go over the Tar Heels' offense a bit. Shoop, also the quarterbacks coach, is a good guy and a smart coach who can get pretty animated at practices. It was a pretty long interview, so I'll post it in two parts.
Where did you think the offense made the most progress this spring?
John Shoop: I think that we continued to get better at situation football. From the first to the second year we really made an emphasis on getting better at third downs. We went from one of the worst in the country to in the top third. We tried to really get better at red zone football. The one situation we didn't get as good as we needed to was the two-minute, so we worked really hard on the two-minute offense this spring as well. With T.J.'s [T.J. Yates] experience, we're continuing to get better at situation football.
Those aren't the only situations -- second-and-long, cutting it in half, playing from the middle of the field, playing from the fringe, playing backed up. The analogy I make is it's like a golf course: There are guys who can hit the ball well, but then they go out and shoot a 90. Part of it deals with scoring. The guys in our offense, with more maturity we understand what it takes to score well. We were second in the ACC in scoring last year, but I think we can even be better. These guys feel like they left a lot out there, and we don't want to waste those opportunities.
That's gotta be a huge difference. I think I read where Butch said in the News & Observer that you can talk to them as much as you want, but until they get out there and learn it for themselves, it's a totally different ballgame.
JS: Right. Butch has always said we're drawing on experiences we've had together. Often times it seemed like the first two years it was like, 'When I was at Chicago, or, when I was at Carolina, this was what happened.' Now it's like, 'Hey do you remember that Maryland game? We've got to get that ball up-and-down when we're on the fringe.' That's really helped our guys to grow.
You mentioned T.J. How much of a concern is his durability?
JS: Endurance and durability, I tell our team all the time are the two most underrated qualities in a football player. You can't practice if you don't have endurance and durability, and you can't get better if you don't practice. T.J. is a tough son of a gun. He played the bulk of his freshman year, a bit of it with an injured shoulder and really stuck it out. Last year he broke his foot. You break your foot, you break your foot. The thing we love about T.J. is he came back from that and finished up strong in two games. Like all of us, you're greatest strength is your greatest weakness. When he injured his thumb, we were at a team function.
We had different stations where our team for summer conditioning had been broken up into different teams, and he was competing like heck. A piano player probably isn't going to go out and play volleyball or Frisbee golf worrying about his fingers. T.J., if you put him in a situation where you're keeping score, he's going to compete. I was there, coach Davis was there, it wasn't a situation where he was just out horsing around.
He's fine, he's throwing now, everything is great. People ask me about his durability, and I think every player has to have endurance and durability. It's an underrated quality. I talked to him about it a lot, but I also talk to our wideouts, our o-line, and our tailbacks. Is it a concern? Yeah, because it is for everybody.
Speaking of the wideouts, how long realistically do you think it's going to take before those guys aren't thinking as much as they're just playing?
JS: I hope not long. We're a concept driven team. Our formations may change, but our concepts are always the same. Dwight Jones, Joshua Adams, Todd Harrelson, Greg Little, Johnny White -- these guys understand the concepts. They can go out there on their own right now and practice the individual routes that make up the concept and they get it. I think really what they need to do is adjust, keep working with our quarterbacks.
The big part about playing wide receiver -- we'll get them running the right routes, that won't be the problem -- they need to develop a rapport with the guy throwing the ball. That's what Hakeem did so well, sometimes to a fault. Like I said, you're greatest strength is your greatest weakness. Well, Hakeem [Nicks] would get in the quarterback's ear -- 'I need the ball, I need the ball.' Well, you're covered and the other three guys are wide open. There's a fine line.
I think that these guys right now are all working their tails off to develop a rapport with the quarterbacks. That's more important to me, because you know, sometimes you have to throw to a guy and he's not really open. But you have to trust: Either he's going to come down with it, or the ball is going to be left on the ground. That's what Hakeem and Brandon [Tate] did for our quarterbacks, is, 'Don't worry, if I'm right with the guy, don't worry, I've got you.'
Jamal Womble looks like he's going to be a good third guy for you. Is he a player fans should keep an eye on? He's kind of a fireplug.
JS: I imagine that's a little bit what Natrone Means looked like in college. He's built low to the ground, and is a tough guy to tackle. The thing you always worry about that when guys are hard to tackle, is you worry about ball security. He's working his tail off on that. He takes a lot of hits because he doesn't go down so easy. If he can take care of the ball security and keep working his tail off this summer -- he could still shape his body a little bit. He knows that. Yeah, we're certainly encouraged by Jamal Womble. He's a tough guy to tackle.
Who are some other players who are newcomers Carolina fans might get to know a little better this fall?
JS: I think we had some good springs from some guys who may not show up in the box score. Mike Ingersoll at one of the tackle positions has really made some strides. He's up over 3.5 GPA-wise as well. You invest feelings in guys like that, who do everything right and work their tails off. He's a first-in, last-to-leave guy. He really sets a high standard for those guys. I think he's really going to compete for playing time at the tackle spot.
Another guy who is in the same category of you love him, you root for him, is Ed Barham at the tight end spot. All of our tight ends really were excited when they saw Rich [Quinn] go in the second round. That can serve as a real motivational tool. The way those guys practiced, and
Ed's got a chance to really help us. He may not always show up in the box score, but he's a strong blocker. He and Zack Pianalto are working their tails off to again develop a rapport with the quarterback. Those tight ends, they're not always wide open. You've just gotta stay between the defender and the ball.
Stay tuned for Part II.