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Knightly News

On last night's edition of Sunday Night Football, John Madden singled out Eric Foster for praise at approx 8:47 pm. He mentioned that coaches have been raving about his performance in practice, and claimed that he had quickly learned a spin move from the Colts (somebody never saw the 2006 game vs. Louisville!) Al Michaels responded by noting that the Colts have had good luck with UDFAs from Rutgers; Foster is following in the steps of one Gary Brackett.

It's not very insightful for any diehard fan, but it's still nice to hear some confirmation of all the practice reports that we've been reading.

UNC is asking a lot of Greg Little in 2008.

Indeed, Davis said one of the biggest keys to turning last year's 4-8 finish into Carolina's first winning season since 2001 is building depth in the backfield -- and beyond.

The coaches need to choose a backup quarterback for T.J. Yates, who displayed familiar zip on his throws despite offseason shoulder surgery. They would like to be able to rotate eight to 10 defensive linemen each game. They want to have deep cushions of personnel at the corners, at linebacker, and even at wide receiver -- where the Tar Heels return three of the best pass catchers in the league.

But they also need to build a solid rotation at tailback, where the Tar Heels played "ball-carrier-by-committee" last season before they, as Davis put it, "found out that maybe the best running back that we had on the football team was playing wide receiver."

Keith Sargeant is starting his own 2008 preview.

Speaking of Gannett, Paul Franklin wrote a feature on incoming top-level recruits Mike Rosario and Scott Winston, and their hopes to turn around Rutgers Basketball and Wrestling.

L.J. Smith is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2007.

It's business as usual for Zeus.

Rookie offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah continues to generate praise from Gruden, who said the versatile third-round pick out of Rutgers is unflappable. "I can’t be more pleased with Jeremy Zuttah,’’ he said.

He is not currently in line to start, but...

JEREMY ZUTTAH: April's third-round pick from Rutgers is impressing coaches with his poise and preparation. He has practiced at center and guard, and has done well calling protections. The guy is smart and physical, two great traits for an offensive lineman.

If the Bucs lost a starting tackle, it would not be surprising to see them start Zuttah inside and move Arron Sears or Davin Joseph to tackle to get the best five linemen on the field. That's not likely to happen, but he has been that impressive.

This is how you support a program.

Rookie running back Ray Rice continues to impress with his hard-nosed running style and ability to cut back across the grain for holes. Rice appeared to have his own cheering section as several fans dressed in Rutgers scarlet red T-shirts populated the area behind the end zone of one practice field and screamed, "Ray!" every time the running back touched the ball.

That's not the half of it.

It was akin to an endless heavyweight boxing match for Ray Rice as the stocky rookie running back ran through and around a gauntlet of star linebackers.

For three consecutive days at training camp, the Baltimore Ravens’ seemingly-tireless second-round draft pick endured punishing hits and bounced off tackles. He had his moments, gliding past Ray Lewis and Bart Scott with his uncanny agility and moves.

"That’s right up my alley," Rice said Saturday morning in Westminster. "I’m getting that experience, and, hopefully, it puts me in great position to make plays out there.

"It feels natural again. I’m getting used to the speed, and being out there with the best of the best is something I really take pride in. When Ray Lewis tells you, ‘Good job,’ it really inspires me."

Rice has looked extremely comfortable catching passes out of the backfield, a skill that he has been honing ever since minicamps.

Mostly, though, team officials took notice of his toughness and hard-nosed nature. Rice never complained while taking virtually every snap with starter Willis McGahee sidelined due to a knee injury with three other running backs injured, too.

At one point, Rice was the only healthy running back on the team until Allen Patrick recovered from a mild concussion and the team signed free agent Alex Haynes on Saturday.

"I was impressed with the way he came through that," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He learned how to pick up blitzes. He was dog-tired, and he stepped in the A gap and hit linebackers in the face. That’s not easy to do.

"Carry the ball when you’re really, really fatigued and hold onto the ball and protect the ball when you’re fatigued. Catch the ball. Run a nice route. He’s done a nice job."

He's still a work in progress though.

Although Rice lacks optimum size at 5-foot-8, 205 pounds, he represents a rare combination of speed, and power.

And you can add durability and intelligence to his list of attributes, according to running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery.

"Taking everybody’s reps, he’s a lot sharper now and understands the plays better," Montgomery said. "The amount of snaps he has taken has kind of put him in a comfort zone. As a running back, that’s what you want.

"Now, the game slows down and it’s not at such a fast pace whereas before he was in a panic mode. Now, he’s out of the straitjacket and we can put him in a wheelchair and push him around a little bit. He sees everything opening up now."

However, Rice’s transition isn’t completely seamless. There is still much for him to learn.

Rice has a tendency because of his diminutive stature to stand as tall as possible when he’s running instead of hunching down and tucking the football into his biceps to protect the football properly. Fumbling has not been an issue yet.

"You want to get your pad level down and get the ball in there tight with your head gear down, so you have something of a triangle," Montgomery said. "Now, Ray is an upright runner. So, we are constantly working on him to drop his pads and lower himself so he can protect the ball."

Another major adjustment for Rice has been learning that he’s not going to win every physical confrontation on the field after years of trucking college defenders.

"The hits do feel different, I’m not going to lie," Rice said. "You can’t always fight against it. You’ve got to know when to go down sometimes if you can’t get extra yards. That’s when you have to be careful."

Rice wasn’t employed much as a receiver at Rutgers, only catching 37 career passes for 334 yards and one touchdown.

Through a lot of work after practices on the JUGS machine, Rice’s hands have gotten markedly better.

"Ray has improved unbelievably as a receiver," Montgomery said. "You can see a big difference in how he has grown at catching the football from the minicamps to this camp. Ray wasn’t a receiver in college and has still got a long way to go, but is really improving well."

If you ever listen to Greg Schiano talk, he probably takes even more pride in this:

From a character standpoint, Rice has drawn excellent reviews.

The oldest son of special-education teacher Janet Rice, Rice grew up in a tough public housing project called "The Hollows" and became a role model to his younger siblings and to special-needs students.

"He’s a charismatic type of guy," Montgomery said. "He has a passion and love for his fellow man. He cares about people.

"He gives those who came before him the respect. Ray is a different kind of guy. He has come full-circle. He has an inner peace about this game. "

Everyone's kind of writing the same column today. Aditi has a few more thoughts from Teel.