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October 6, 2011

Heels banged up heading to Saturday

UNC head coach Everett Withers spoke with the media Thursday afternoon prior to practice, where he gave several updates about the team's overall health.

The Tar Heels are heading into its final non-conference game of the regular season against Louisville Saturday in Kenan Stadium dealing with multiple injuries.

The team listed a total of 10 players as either 'doubtful' or 'questionable' or Saturday's game---easily the most on that list for the Tar Heels so far this season---and there's another key contributor who's already been deemed out again for another week.

"There's probably about three or maybe four guys that will be questionable for the game, and it will mainly be up to game time with all these guys," said Withers.

"On offense, A.J. Blue, with a high ankle (sprain). We'll evaluate him today, probably try to get a few things out of him today and see how it goes. We'll evaluate him as we go."

"Cam Holland, we think we'll have back. He's got a little bit of back soreness, but we think he'd be okay."

Holland's primary backup Russell Bodine got extensive work with the starting unit in practice this week, and he could very well see action Saturday again like he did in the ECU game.

Withers is optimistic that Holland's injuries are not severe enough to keep him out of action for an extended period of time, but he's confident that even if Holland does have to miss time Saturday that Bodine will be able to handle it.

"Yeah, I think Russell, I don't think I've ever counted Russell as a second-team guy anyway," said Withers.

"Russell is as good as Cam now. That's one of those deals where I don't think we'll miss a whole lot (if Holland can't play). Hopefully Cam gives us senior leadership, but with Russell, we shouldn't miss a beat as far as technique and fundamentals."

"Defensively, questionable guys, Jonathan Smith again, we're just trying to get another week of taking care of that ankle, so it probably will go up to game time with him," Withers continued.

"Kevin Reddick, Kevin's had a little bit of an ankle (injury) from last week. We feel like if we need Kevin, but we hope we won't have to stick him out there and set him back any further."

"Ebele Okakpu is another guy, and they're all high-ankles. We may see a little bit more out of Ebele today in practice and see how he goes. So those are the main guys as far as injuries."

With Carolina looking at potentially playing against the Cardinals without two starting linebackers in Reddick and Okakpu, it's going to provide a chance for youngsters like Travis Hughes and Darius Lipford, among others, to step up.

Withers hinted that Zach Brown would likely play middle linebacker if Reddick can't go Saturday, and Brown was seen in Thursday's practice working out in the middle with the starting defensive rotation.

"You could see Zach Brown in there. Zach has played in there (at middle linebacker) before," he said.

The Tar Heels will again be without the services of senior kicker Casey Barth this weekend as he continues to work through groin and leg injuries.

"Yeah, we'll probably hold Casey another week, and get him back maybe in a week or two," Withers said.

The idea of Barth redshirting the season was brought up to Withers, but he says that the senior would probably like to get back as soon as possible and finish out his eligibility this fall.

"I think that's more up to the academic staff and his parents and their decision, what they want to do (regarding redshirting). I think Casey wants to kick."

There's no question the Tar Heels are banged up right now, but one silver lining is that they've gotten back cornerback Jabari Price, which is allowing the UNC coaches to set up its secondary rotation as it was originally intending during training camp before Price went out with a hand injury.

After a particularly solid first game back against East Carolina last weekend, Coach Withers and the other UNC coaches feel confident enough about Price to put him into the starting lineup for Saturday.

It's also allowing them to move Tre Boston back to safety, where he worked out throughout the offseason preparing to play this season.

"You'll probably see Jabari Price at the corner position and Tre Boston at the safety position today (in practice)," said Withers. "Jabari did a good job for us last week (against ECU), so we want to see about him starting and trying to get back into a normal routine in the secondary."

Price steps back into the starting lineup for UNC at cornerback along with Charles Brown, while Boston gives the Tar Heels an extra option now at safety.

With Smith potentially missing Saturday's game, the playing time at safety could be split up between a combination of players including Boston, Matt Merletti, and Gene Robinson.

There's no question the UNC staff feels very confident about Boston at safety, and a source recently told Tar Heel Illustrated that the staff thinks he's good enough to be an All-American at safety in the coming years.

"We had him (Boston) there (at safety) this spring, and we felt that was his more natural position, so getting him back there, I think he feels more comfortable back there," said Withers of the move.

Boston put on considerable weight preparing for the move to safety, a position that requires athleticism but not as much flat-out speed as the cornerbacks.

Opposing offenses challenged Boston throughout his short time this fall at corner, and the Tar Heels are hopeful that the weight he put on during the offseason will benefit him more at safety.

Coach Withers doesn't think the weight Boston put on was bad weight.

"I think when you're 17, 18, 19-year olds, and you put on that much (weight), it's more your body maturing and lifting weights and strength and conditioning. It's not like me putting on 15 pounds eating potato chips," he said.

This isn't Withers' first time coaching a UNC-Louisville game, although the last time he wasn't on the Tar Heel sidelines.

Withers was the defensive coordinator at Louisville back in 1995 and 1996, when UNC knocked off the Cardinals two straight years in the twilight years of the Mack Brown era.

UNC prevailed in a hard-fought 17-10 game up in Louisville on a Thursday night back in 1995, and then the following year, Withers' Cardinals came to Chapel Hill and left on the short end of a 28-10 score.

"I remember the one we almost won on the baseball field up there (at Louisville)," said Withers, recalling the 1995 UNC-Louisville showdown. "I just remember we played pretty well. We hit the quarterback a lot. They hit ours a lot. It was a tight game."








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