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March 3, 2009

Generating depth

Carolina had enough depth to win eight football games and play in the postseason a year ago, thanks mostly to the heroics of backup quarterback Cameron Sexton.

Sexton was the one experienced player who could rescue the Tar Heels at their moment of greatest need, even though no one could have known Sexton would be so prepared and ready to do the job. What he showed is how it's done: by continuing to work hard, paying attention to the coaches and going to practice to improve each day.

"No one knows when their opportunity is going to present itself," Coach Butch Davis said. "There is not a guy who sat in our team meeting rooms last year who would have said, 'If T.J. [Yates] breaks his ankle, Cam Sexton can come in and help us win games.'

"No one would have known that. There was no evidence to prove that. The week before he got a chance to play in the Miami game, he was on the scout team. The one thing Cam Sexton did do was he never wasted a chance to practice hard and be prepared. He was unbelievable in the meeting rooms, learning and knowing what to do. He was great at practice, and he has an unbelievable attitude.

"Then when the opportunity presented itself, he was able to take advantage of it. So for all the guys who are not necessarily listed as number one on the depth chart, he is a great inspirational story."

Unfortunately, what the Tar Heels did not have was enough depth at wide receiver to overcome the loss of superstar Brandon Tate in time to play for the ACC title, although UNC had positioned itself to do so.

By the time Duke and Carolina played to end the regular season, Greg Little had made the successful transition from running back to wide receiver and provided the diversity to put some power back in the Tar Heels' offense.

Depth is traditionally the major aspect that separates the most powerful teams in the nation, the average clubs and the also-rans. Injuries are as much a part of the game as kickoffs and the ball itself.

So the challenge for Davis and his staff is to recruit enough quality players so that the ones coming off the bench have talent and eventually enough experience to fill in and prevent a huge drop-off.

Depth is the major emphasis this spring, so much so that Davis said on Wednesday.

"There will be some of our starters for the first time that we may take out of some of the scrimmages and stuff," Davis said. "We've seen Kyle Jolly. He's started now for two years at [offensive] tackle. There may be times when he gets 10 or 15 snaps in a scrimmage, and we may want to see 45 snaps out of Carl Gaskins. We have seen T.J.

"There may be days when we tell T.J. that he will participate in practice, but when we go to scrimmage, 'You're out, and Mike [Paulus], you're in with the ones or Braden [Hanson], you're in with the ones.'

"We don't have enough depth. We've got to hand select. We'll do that at linebacker. There will be some scrimmages where Bruce [Carter] or Quan [Sturdivant] will not be out there. We have a pretty good idea of how they are going to play on Saturdays. We need to find out who can be their backups."

There is a string of young guys, from Jamal Womble at running back to Dwight Jones at wide receiver to Zach Brown or Ebele Okakpu at linebacker who are going to get to show what they can do.

"There is a long laundry list of kids like that," Davis said. "It's time now. Jonathan Cooper [at offensive line]. We have a pretty good idea of what Ryan Houston and Shaun Draughn are going to be like [at running back]. We have to see Jamal Womble get 20 carries so we know: What is going to be his role?

"There is a long laundry list of kids who have been waiting their turn."


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