ACC Football: UNC ready for spring practice
By Joedy McCreary
CHAPEL HILL ó Butch Davis is getting an early start on spring football practice at North Carolina, and for good reason. He has one of the toughest jobs around: Finding another playmaker to replace star receiver Hakeem Nicks.
The Tar Heels’ coach has several holes to fill when his team begins spring workouts today, but none is more pressing than the ones at wide receiver because the top three players from last season ó Nicks, Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate ó have moved on.
Davis named three new assistants on Tuesday, adding Troy Douglas as defensive backs coach and Art Kaufman as his linebackers coach while putting Allen Mogridge in charge of tight ends.
They won’t waste any time getting started.
The Tar Heels are the first of the state’s five Bowl Subdivision programs to begin spring drills.
The early start “would be a great way to kind of get the new coaches and players, get them out there, get their feet wet,” Davis said. “We’re going to go slow in the teaching and fundamental process anyhow.”
They’ll need as much time as possible to search for replacements for three of the most productive receivers in school history ó most notably Nicks, an all-Atlantic Coast Conference wideout who entered the NFL draft early after setting a school bowl record with 217 yards and three touchdowns in the Meineke Bowl.
It’s difficult enough for Davis to replace Nicks, who set 14 school records before becoming the first Tar Heel underclassman to enter the draft since Julius Peppers in 2001. But North Carolina also is missing a pair of seniors from 2008 in Tate, a big-play threat at both wideout and as a return man, and the sure-handed Foster.
Their departures leave running back Shaun Draughn, a one-time defensive back who caught 16 balls for 81 yards last season, as the leading returning receiver.
Highly touted recruit Dwight Jones and Greg Little, a do-anything player who dabbled at running back before returning to his natural position at receiver, will be among the players given early chances to step in.
“The one thing that I really liked about Hakeem, Brandon and Brooks, they all had unique skills and talents but the one thing they all shared in common was they were all very, very consistent,” Davis said. “You want great effort, which they’re going to give, and you want consistency. A quarterback’s got to develop an awful lot of trust in not only the wide receivers, but (the young tight ends). … We’ve got a lot of guys that developing that trust with the quarterbacks is going to be very important.”
Of course, there are more holes in the depth chart for a North Carolina team that went 8-5 and contended for the ACC Coastal Division title before making its first bowl appearance since 2004.
Between now and the March 28 spring game, the Tar Heels hope to find fill-ins for Garrett Reynolds, the anchor of the offensive line; safety Trimane Goddard, a second-team AP All-American who had seven interceptions; and linebacker Mark Paschal, a natural leader whose senior season ended early with a spinal injury.
But with T.J. Yates back for a third season as the starting quarterback and Draughn now solidified as the starter in the backfield, Davis is optimistic that in his third season in Chapel Hill, his team can use this spring to continue building on the momentum from last year.
“This may be one of the most important spring practices that we’ll have,” Davis said.
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