UNC opens practice for Davis’ 4th year

Marvin Austin and Greg Little were on the practice field Friday

just like the rest of their North Carolina teammates for the start

of preseason workouts. It’s unclear whether they’ll be able to join

the Tar Heels less than a month from now for the season opener – or

beyond.

The pair at the center of an NCAA investigation into whether

they received improper benefits from agents didn’t talk with

reporters after the afternoon practice. The rest of the players and

coach Butch Davis have chosen to focus on anything other than the

uncertainty following Austin, a senior defensive tackle projected

as a high NFL draft pick, and Little, a senior and the team’s top

receiving threat.

”It’s good to get back to doing football,” Davis said. ”I

think our players are excited about it. Anytime you go on the

practice field for two hours, as a coach, you’re always talking

about block out distractions, block out the weather, block out the

noise, block out the other team’s fans. This was a good way to

start camp.”

Austin and Little appeared to be working with the second team

during a 45-minute part of practice that was open to reporters, but

Davis said he wasn’t making any practice plans based on their

status just yet.

”We rotate a lot of guys throughout in a lot of different

situations,” Davis said. ”At some point in time during the course

of training camp, we’ll have to make a decision based on what we

find out and what direction we need to go. But right now, we’re

just practicing football.”

Davis has talked only in generalities about the inquiry, which

began when the NCAA notified the school in late June. Investigators

visited the campus July 12 and 13 to interview an unknown number of

players, then returned again this week. The probe has been part of

a series of similar investigations at defending national champion

Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

During last weekend’s Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff

preseason event, Davis refused to answer whether he had a policy of

holding out players in the midst of an NCAA investigation, calling

it ”speculative.” When asked Friday about the NCAA’s return to

campus, Davis again refused to talk about specifics.

”We’ll talk about football,” he said. ”We’re not talking

about the NCAA review.”

His players are following a similar path. Quarterback T.J. Yates

said the start of training camp meant the team could just ”block

everything else and concentrate on football,” while cornerback

Kendric Burney said the NCAA investigation has been ”no

distraction at all.”

”We had a great first day of practice,” Burney said. ”Our

focus right now is on practice and that’s exactly what we’re

doing.”

Davis is preparing for his fourth season in Chapel Hill, where

he has guided the program to consecutive eight-win seasons and

their first back-to-back bowl seasons since the late 1990s when

Mack Brown left for Texas.

The Tar Heels are expected to contend for the ACC’s Coastal

Division title behind a defense that returns nine starters from a

unit that ranked among the nation’s best last year. Austin – a

6-foot-3, 310-pound tackle – opted to return to school for his

final season instead of heading to the NFL, while Little emerged as

the team’s go-to receiver late last year.

Losing either – let alone, both – would be a blow for the Tar

Heels as they prepare for their opener against LSU in Atlanta on

Sept. 4.

As for whether the team has rallied around each other in

response to the probe, Davis is waiting to see.

”Today’s our first practice,” he said. ”Time will tell.”