CHAPEL HILL – Wide receiver Todd Harrelson made the biggest catch of his career in last year’s Music City Bowl – a 28-yard reception with less than a minute left in regulation that kept the Tar Heels’ drive, and hopes, alive.
If the junior wants to make another catch, though, it will likely need to be an interception.
With starting cornerback Jabari Price scheduled for surgery Friday to repair an injured tendon in his left hand (he hurt it Tuesday), and UNC’s coaches unsure how long he will be sidelined, Harrelson switched to corner during Thursday’s practice. Although the 6-feet-2, 195-pounder was recruited to play receiver at Carolina, he was a second-team all-state defensive back at Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Va.
“College is probably a little faster than when I played corner in high school, but it’s really not that much of a difference,’’ Harrelson said. “I just need to learn the playbook, and I should be OK.”
During the first 45 minutes of practice Thursday, Harrelson played mostly with the second-team. Freshman cornerback Tim Scott was playing with the first team, along with sophomore Tre Boston – who had switched from cornerback to safety, but looked comfortable playing corner, again.
“I’m willing to do whatever my team needs me to do … I feel natural at both, I feel like I can do both,’’ Boston said.
Defensive backs coach Troy Douglas said he would like to ultimately keep Boston at free safety, because “he’s so athletic, so physical, and that’s where he’s practiced mostly now. … He’s a good corner, but I think he could be a great safety.
But complicating the situation, too, is the status of corner Charles Brown. The senior sat out last season as part of the NCAA’s investigation into academic misconduct and impermissible benefits, and must also sit out the Sept. 3 season opener before returning to the starting lineup.
“Hopefully this experiment works out with Todd, and we get Charlie back, and when can ship him [Boston] back over there [to safety],’’ Douglas said. “ We’ll see.”
For his part, Harrelson said he plans to work with Boston, Brown, and senior safety Matt Merletti to learn the defensive playbook as quickly as possible – so he can contribute as quickly as possible.
“Making big plays is what makes me feel good, so that’s what I’m looking forward to,”” Harrelson said.
HOUSTON STILL IN ORANGE: Senior tailback Ryan Houston remained in his non-contact orange jersey Thursday, a continued precautionary measure after spring shoulder surgery.
“Ryan’s been playing a lot of ball around here, so when Ryan’s ready – and hopefully it will be right before kickoff – we can get him back out there, rolling,’’ interim head coach Everett Withers said.
Withers added that it’s always a challenge, trying to balance contact and rest.
“The more experience a guy has, the more knocks he’s taken in his career, the less likely you need to see him doing two-a-days,’’ he said. “Obviously, you’d like to see your running backs take some pounding and that kind of deal, but we trust Ryan, and we trust all those guys. We’re getting enough work out of all those [tailbacks]; we’ll feel comfortable game week.”
A LEARNING MOMENT: Asked if he’d been keeping up with situation in Miami – where booster Nevin Shapiro, who now serving 20 years in federal prison for his role in a Ponzi scheme, claims he provided Hurricanes players with prostitutes, cars and other gifts over the past decade – Withers said, “a little bit.”
“ When you’re in two-a-days, you have your own issues, but I think all this stuff for college football is lessons to learn about a lot of things,’’ he said. “We have our own issues. One of our mottos is, ‘Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.’ So we’re trying to learn from our issues, and we’ll take whatever comes out of the Miami issues and teach and learn from that, so we don’t’ make those mistakes. But basically, we’re trying to deal with our issues, and get ready for our season.”
NIX PUSHING: Withers said one of the most pleasant surprises during training camp has been the play of senior defensive tackle Jordan Nix.
“Jordan Nix is pushing Tydreke Powell right now really hard,’’ he said. “…He will help us. We consider Jordan a starter, a third starter at D-tackle right now.”
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