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Media Day Highlights

Football talk.

UNC held media day on Thursday which was focused primarily on football issues and not all that other crap we've been obsessing over for 14 months now. Inside Carolina has quotes from interim head coach Everett Withers and several players. Here are some of the more interesting notes.

  • Withers commented at length on the resiliency of the team noting certain players are stepping up into leadership roles during the NCAA related turmoi.
  • Donte Paige-Moss has not been practicing due to a "medical issue" but will return to practice on Friday.
  • Brandon Ellerbe has been cleared to play after dealing with some academic issues.
  • Withers noted he is settling in nicely because the work load is almost welcome. He praised the staff and said he thinks he might be getting more sleep now than he did as a coordinator because the other coaches are doing a great job taking care of any issues.
  • A.J. Blue is ready to go according to Withers and has been impressive.
  • There has been focus on "doing the little things" which ends up making a huge difference.
  • Withers says OL Jonathan Cooper has been "big" in both the football aspects as well as being a leader.
  • According to Withers, Bryn Renner had his best practice on Wednesday night in terms of taking command of the huddle and being "sharp" in his execution of the offense.
  • Roy Williams addressed the football team at Withers' request earlier in the week. Roy reminded the players to represent UNC with pride and class. No word on how many times he used "dadgum" or "frickin'"
  • Quinton Coples was asked about his draft party escapade of which he was cleared by the NCAA. The long and short of it is Coples signed out properly but later changed his plans without informing the UNC coaching staff. Coples was never nervous about the NCAA's questions because, "You become nervous when you're guilty, so I had nothing to be nervous about." Coples says he is "know" for doing things the right way and this situation was no different. Well, if you don't count the sign out fiasco which Withers said there will be some internal correction for that. The more salient point gleaned from this is players behaving the right way is the one sure way to avoid NCAA trouble. All the rules in the world won't matter if the players are prone to break them no matter what. However take Coples and his sense to do things right then you are talking about a much easier time in the compliance office.
  • Kicker Casey Barth has been working on kicking field goals in the 50 yard plus range. Not that I expect we will see Barth being brought on for such FG attempts but who knows, Withers might just be insane enough to try it. It sounds like a matter of development. At this point one would think Barth is ready to push the envelope on his range.
  • Bryn Renner and Dwight Jones might be the most important tandem to watch. Jones is poised for a breakout season having been tabbed as first team All-ACC in the preseason. However, his performance hinges on the play of Renner who will really be getting his feet wet for the first time in his career. Jones said they are working on the chemistry and have a ways to go. After only seven practices there is still plenty of time to work out the kinks.
  • Sylvester Williams continues to have his name crop up. The JUCO transfer defensive lineman has been on high on everyone's list and it now appears he has worked his way into the starting lineup where he will join Coples in giving opposing offensive lines plenty to worry about.
  • RB Gio Benard says he is 100%. Bernard will be a key figure as the season unfolds. For one, presumptive starting RB Ryan Houston is still recovering from shoulder surgery. Secondly, Bernard is a different kind of runner than Houston who is more of a bruising back. You sort of figure Houston will carry much of the load but Bernard will get plenty of touches as a change of pace. If the offensive line pans out in accordance to the hype, the chances to collect yards on the ground will be there.

Overall this played much like any normal media day would. There were still plenty of hints and segues into talk about the NCAA issues but mostly this was all about football. Heck, Bryn Renner even got the Every Day Should Be Saturday treatment which includes a line about Tim Brando that provokes such a disturbing image you might very well try to bleach your brain after reading it. Aside from the routine question about how the team is handling the controversy and upheaval involved with the head coach being fired two weeks ago, it was refreshing to get football back on the front burner where it will hopefully stay until October 28th or Holden Thorp has an itch he needs to scratch.

In terms of the "other stuff" not much has unfolded outside the NCAA finishing up their little president's retreat with promises to streamline rules and tighten up the APR standards. In fact the proposal being discussed would mandate an APR of 930 for a team or they could be excluded from bowl games or NCAA Tournament play. For the record UNC's APR in football over the past four years is 947-947-957-955 which would put them well over the line. And in case you were wondering NC State's APR in football than impressive. The Wolfpack football team has posted an APR of 941-933-937-929. In other words, NCSU is sitting right on the line for bowl eligibility under the new proposal.

If you read that last bit with a slight smirk and a devilish chuckle, I don't blame you.

Listen to Audio (23:29)
Opening Remarks-"We've had a great first seven practices, it's been a lot of fun, the kids have worked tremendously hard, we had our first two-a-day yesterday. We're looking forward to getting better each day. I've been really proud of the kids and how they've handled things - this is a resilient group, they've done a great job moving forward.

"Through all of this, these kids have really banded together well and done a good job of complementing and working with each other and practicing hard. The leadership on this team, through all that's going on, has come to the forefront, taking the younger guys and helping them understand - I'm really proud of that.

"Bryn Renner has really been a guy that you can see him growing every day, and not just football but leadership skills with the offense and defense. He's one of those guys that everybody on the team likes. We're going to need that from him.

"We just got Brandon Ellerbe back in, he's a young man that had to finish up some academic work and now he's back in the fold, so we're excited about him joining the family and getting him going. Hopefully he'll help us win some games.

"Donte Paige-Moss, he's had some medical issues and right now he's scheduled to return to practice tomorrow. He's going to get himself acclimated today a little bit and we're looking forward to getting him back on the field."

Listen to Audio (3:10)

There were a lot of big-name departures off last year's defense that are now in the NFL,

"Yeah, we (lost) a lot of talent, but we've got a lot of great guys and I feel like we're not missing a beat. We've got Coples, Tydreke, and everyone stepping up, now I've got a lot of confidence in our whole defense."

What do you think Zach Brown can do this year with a starting role?

"I feel like he can do great things starting this year, because he's real fast and athletic. He didn't start last year, but he was second on the team in tackles, so with him now starting I'm going to expect him to do a lot more."

Listen to Audio (3:35)

How surprised were you that the NCAA wanted to talk to you this summer?

"I was very surprised. I did everything the right way, I'm known for doing things the right way, but other than that we did it, got cleared and moved on. ... I wasn't nervous at all. You become nervous when you're guilty, so I had nothing to be nervous about."

What have you seen from Sylvester Williams?

"Very impressed. He's actually moved up to the starting position and he's definitely worked hard to get it. He's got a lot to show this upcoming season."

Listen to Audio (1:44)

Where have you improved the most from last season?

"My understanding of the game, reading defenses, knowing how to play. Just really having a good feel for the game."

How has Bryn Renner looked to you during the first week of practice?

"Bryn's been looking good. We're still developing our chemistry, still got a long way to go, but every day we're progressing. As long as we're doing that, I think we can have a big upcoming season."

Listen to Audio (4:00)

How much are you working with Ryan Houston, even though he's not practicing full speed yet?

"He's a big help, he helps me out with the reads and blitz pickups. He knows the game better than the other running backs - he's been here the longest - and he's a real help in the meeting room, answering questions and knowing the fronts. Having that experience helps me out because I'm basically a freshman on the field."

Are you 100%?

"Yeah, I feel perfectly fine. I feel like I'm back to normal, if not better - I feel faster, stronger, quicker, better out of my cuts. There's nothing wrong with my knee, you may see a brace but it's just to have it there ... Honestly, I felt like I was back to 100 percent a really long time ago, it was just a matter of making it stronger than it was before."

Listen to Audio (6:34)

Are you feeling more anxious for the start of this season?

"Yeah, anxious is the right word. ... I'm just ready to play a game and really looking forward to it."

Gio Bernard mentioned your leadership, and how you're texting a lot of players ...

"I really think that's the No. 1 job of the quarterback, being the head in charge and make sure everyone knows what's going on. After the Tennessee I started that, texting every receiver and every lineman - I've got a thing in my phone that keeps it organized - and said 'Hey, we need to do bigger things and I think we can.'"

Listen to Audio (3:49)

How much will it help Bryn Renner to have an experienced line in front of him?

"I think it's big. We need to give him as much time as we can - every pass play, make him feel comfortable. Once he starts getting confident, you're going to see his big-play ability."

What have you seen from A.J. Blue thus far at running back?

"The transition from quarterback, he still has to learn some of the offense, but he's doing a great job. He's got great vision. He's a do-it-all guy. Yesterday in practice he made an amazing catch down the sideline on third down. We were excited to see that and we're excited to see what he can do on Saturdays."

Listen to Audio (5:43)

How difficult was last year for you, not being able to play but practicing with the team?

"It was pretty difficult, knowing I could have been out there helping the team. It hurt knowing that the young guys had to be thrown in."

Coach Withers said you've been one of the most impressive guys in the secondary so far. Has it been an easy transition back from the scout team to the 1st and 2nd team?

"I think it's been relatively easy. Because I'm an older guy, I've seen a lot of football and been in a lot of situations, and because I was doing scout team for the whole year I wasn't completely off the field."

Listen to Audio (3:05)

Where have you improved since last season?

"One of the biggest things for me is kicking confidently from further out. So far, Coach Pittman, Coach Withers and Coach Mo' have all let me kick some longer field goals in practice - 54, 49, 50, 52 - and for me that's big showing they have confidence in me. I haven't been that consistent but I told them the more kicks I kick the more confident I can get."

You've obviously very accurate, and it seems like your first three years 42 or 43 would be as far out as you'd go but in pregame we'd see you hit it from a lot further out.

"Definitely it's confidence. Kicking is 90 percent mental. With the team, when you have that feeling that the coach doesn't kick from out far, in your mind you think 'He doesn't think I can so maybe I can't.' Last year I had a 46 and 49 and I think it showed all the coaches that I can kick farther."