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August 6, 2010Following North Carolina's first official practice of the 2010 season Friday, head coach Butch Davis took some time to talk about some of the highlights from the day's activities---which included conditioning tests in the morning prior to the afternoon workout.
"The best thing to say is that it's good to be back practicing football," said Davis. "This afternoon's practice was a good start. It's good to get back doing football. I think our players were excited about it."
Davis was pleased with the overall shape in which the team reported in for this year's series of practices.
"I think our guys showed up in really good conditioning," he said.
"This morning we had our annual sixteen 110 (yard sprints), which gives you a little bit of a preview as to what they did during the summer time."
"This year was unusual because we had almost a two and a half week break between the end of the second summer session to today, and your concern a little bit as a coaching staff is did anybody lose a little bit of conditioning, and I think this morning proved that they showed up pretty good," he added.
One of the most noticeable things from observing the opening of practice was the terse welcome that Davis brought to the players when they weren't focused and failing to clap and move in unison.
Davis brought them back three different times before they got it to his liking.
This opening sequence from Davis was a mere prelude to a practice in which the Tar Heel coaches challenged the players mentally as well as physically.
"We've got a lot of guys that have played," Davis said. "We don't want to leave camp fundamentally unsound. There's still got to be a lot of emphasis on great fundamentals, but we've got to become a much, much better situational football team."
"We (the coaches) can probably actually be tough on them," he added. "I think mentally we're going to challenge them."
"We talked about it in our team meeting last (Thursday) night in preparation for today's practices---we want to encourage a lot of competition in practice. We want to encourage a lot of situational football."
On the injury front, Davis spoke about the handful of players that are limited at the start of this year's camp, including two true freshmen and a sophomore.
"T.J. Leifheit was not able to go (Friday)---he's coming off that ankle surgery---and it's going to be a little while," he said. "The best-case scenario is that hopefully in a three to five-day window he'll start to return to do some individual-type stuff and then we'll kind of each day gauge where he is and each day give him a little bit more (work).
"Then Brendon Felder---the wide receiver from Pittsburgh---is coming off an ACL surgery that he had in basketball season in high school back in early February," Davis continued.
"And that's probably best-case scenario, we think that he'll probably maybe not be able to return in late September, early October, before he'll even be able to go back out to practice, but for the most part everybody else was able to go."
A.J. Blue did participate in practice, wearing a large brace over his surgically-repaired left knee.
While Blue worked out with the quarterbacks in some basic, low-impact drills, he's still got a ways to go in his rehabilitation as well.
"He (Blue) did good. I was pleased with A.J.," said Davis. "He's worked unbelievably hard to kind of rehab himself, to re-strengthen his knee. He threw the ball well and moved around the pocket and did some things."
"Obviously he's not at a stage today that you can put him in some scrimmage situations where there would be a lot of contact, but he can certainly do a lot of the individual drills---he can do a lot of the 'seven on sevens' and some of the 'under skelly' and some of the mechanics that quarterbacks have to go through, handing the ball off to running backs---so I think it's helped him," he added.
Coach Davis continued to be completely mum on the NCAA issue.
"As I said over in Greensboro, we'll talk about football. We're not going to talk about the NCAA review," he said.
One of the most noticeable things in the personnel groupings in practice was the fact that seniors Marvin Austin and Greg Little were in the stretching lines and running plays with the second string.
While Davis said it wasn't immediate cause for concern, he added that at some point the coaches will have to figure out based on the NCAA's determination about whether those guys can return to their places with the other starters.
"We rotate a lot of guys throughout in a lot of different situations, and at some point in time during the course of this training camp we'll have to make a decision based on what we find out---what direction we need to go---but right now we're just practicing football," he said.
Davis liked what he saw Friday out of Austin, who has been at the heart of one of the biggest off-the-field news stories to hit North Carolina's football program in years.
"I thought he (Austin) did good," Davis said. "He ran the 16 110 (yard sprints)'s, and for somebody that weighs 312 pounds like he does, like every year at the start of this training camp he made all 16 of them in the required time. I thought he conditioned himself and he ran really well."
Davis admitted that all the NCAA stuff was a distraction for the team when news first popped of the review in late July, but in recent days the team has taken a completely new attitude on the subject.
Now they're all just ready to forge ahead.
"(It was an issue) a month ago when all this stuff started before everybody went home (but) at the end of the second summer session we told everybody a little bit about it and we said, 'We're not going to talk about it any more.'" Davis said.
Quarterback T.J. Yates hinted that the investigation might actually be a rallying cry for this team, but Davis wasn't willing to go that far just yet.
"Today's our first practice. Time will tell. As I said, today's the first practice. It's our first chance to be around them. We'll find out later," he said.
"Any time you can get out there for two hours, as a coach you're always talking about trying to block out distractions, blocking out the weather, blocking out the noise, blocking out the other team's fans, and so this is a good way to kind of start camp," he added.
Davis added that he is pleased with the way the rookies seem to be getting with the program and getting up to speed quickly, and he likes seeing the older players offer a helping hand along the way.
"One of the impressive things I think has been the freshman class---how quickly that they've picked stuff up, how hard they're willing to work," he said.
"I like the way that our seniors and our juniors are really taking those guys under their wing and they're spending some time trying to help them learn the schemes, so it was a good start for training camp."