2013 North Carolina Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What you need to know: Carolina delivered one of its best offensive seasons in school history in its first year running head coach Larry Fedora's up-tempo, no-huddle spread. How potent might the Heels be now that they've had a full year to digest all of the nuances of the system? After ranking No. 8 nationally in scoring, Carolina has its sights set on even bigger aspirations. It returns triggerman Bryn Renner, one of the country's most efficient quarterbacks. Renner will no longer have the support of RB Giovani Bernard or three-fifths of his starting line, including All-American G Jonathan Cooper. However, the Heels have recruited very well in recent years, so there's no shortage of precocious players waiting in the wings. WR Quinshad Davis is a budding star, and the tight ends are as deep as any in the ACC. The line, while adapting to new faces, is strong in the foundation with all-league candidates James Hurst at left tackle and Russell Bodine at center.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Bryn Renner
Passing: Bryn Renner
276-422, 3,356 yds, 28 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: A.J. Blue
82 carries, 433 yds, 9 TDs
Receiving: Quinshad Davis
61 catches, 776 yds, 5 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior RB A.J. Blue
Unsung star on the rise: Junior C Russell Bodine
Best pro prospect: Senior LT James Hurst
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hurst, 2) Renner, 3) Sophomore WR Quinshad Davis
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, diversity of the backs, tight end, protecting the ball
Weakness of the offense: Receiver depth, rebuilt O-line
Senior Bryn Renner has one more season to cement his spot as one of the all-time great quarterbacks to play for Carolina. He followed a record-smashing debut as the starter in 2011 by going 276-of-422 for 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Plus, he was sharper toward the end of the season, his first with inventive head coach Larry Fedora. The 6-3, 225-pounder is looking to guide the Tar Heels into ACC contention, while improving his draft stock as well. Renner is a well-coached pocket passer, unleashing throws with ideal touch, accuracy and timing. Heady and experienced, he's capable of making a national splash now that he's had a full season of piloting Fedora's spread system.
Battling to back up—and possibly succeed—Renner are 6-2, 215-pound sophomore Marquise Williams and 6-3, 210-pound true freshman Mitch Trubisky . The gem of the 2011 recruiting class, Williams was not enrolled in classes this spring, but does plan to join the team again in the summer. As the apprentice last year, the athletic hurler went 10-of-17 for 127 yards and a touchdown, adding 186 yards and three scores on the ground. Trubisky was Mr. Ohio last year, a four-star blue-chipper who already took part in spring drills. He has immediately impressed the staff with his arm strength and quick retention of the offense.
Watch Out For .... Williams' whereabouts. He was suspended for an undisclosed reason, which allowed Trubisky to earn all of the reps with the second team. The sophomore has the edge in experience, and has a future as a starter, but he has to get into camp and into shape as quickly as possible.
Strength: Talent. Renner is one of the nation's top quarterbacks. And Williams and Trubisky were coveted recruits in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The situation under center in Chapel Hill has never been as sound as it is right now.
Weakness: The uncertainty surrounding Williams. Yeah, he's expected to return this fall. But what if he runs afoul once again? The Tar Heels are in terrific shape with Renner at the controls, but if No. 2 happens to miss any time, the program could be forced to hand the reins of the offense over to a rookie.
Outlook: Fedora plus Renner equals one of the better coach-quarterbacks marriages in America. The senior has all of the skills necessary to continue flourishing at the position, and he now has a full year of the coach's spread under his belt as well. Besides rewriting the school record book, Renner will also leave his imprint on the future of the program by mentoring Williams and Trubisky.
It'll take more than one Heel to replace Giovani Bernard, the thrilling second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals. Carolina might possess the right combination to pull it off this fall. The offense will employ a two-headed backfield that consists of the thunder of 6-2, 215-pound senior A.J. Blue and the lightning of 5-9, 195-pound sophomore Romar Morris . Blue stands to get more carries, using his north-south power to work defenses between the tackles. He's also a capable cog in the passing game, both as a blocker and a receiver. Coming off his best season in Chapel Hill, the one-time quarterback ran for 433 yards on 82 carries and produced 10 touchdowns.
Morris is the ideal complement to Blue, a versatile jackrabbit with elite speed. The former high school track champion is dangerous in space, whether he's catching passes out of the slot or carrying the ball in a traditional sense. He flashed hints of his considerable big-play potential as a rookie, running 69 times for 386 yards and two scores, while adding a dozen catches for 204 yards and two more touchdowns.
Listed No. 3 on the depth chart, 5-9, 195-pound freshman Khris Francis was a very pleasant surprise in the spring game. He has a head start on the more heralded, four-star T.J. Logan who arrives in the summer.
Watch Out For .... Blue to become an ideal physical complement to the finesse Tar Heels offense. He was ready for an expanded role a year ago, but Bernard was the cover boy. With a chance to touch the ball 20 times a game, he's about to touch the attention of those NFL scouts who haven't seen much of No. 15.
Strength: The one-two punch. If there was a knock on Bernard in the past, it was that he lacked durability. That'll be no such problem for the bruising Blue, especially since he's going to get plenty of support out of the backfield from Morris.
Weakness: A proven workhorse. Okay, so both Blue and Morris appear ready for a bigger load, but how will they respond to actually getting pounded week-in and week-out. Both players were fresh last November because they rarely absorbed contact more than a dozen times a game. The new duo has plenty to prove as the successor to one of the best backs in school history.
Outlook: Carolina is fine in the backfield, even after losing a player selected No. 37 overall in April. In fact, the powerful Blue and the explosive Morris could wind up forming one of the better running duos in America this season. As a collaboration, the pair could easily go on to combine for 1,500 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. Easily.
A receiving star was born last fall in Chapel Hill. In his debut out of Gaffney (S.C.) High School, Quinshad Davis led the Tar Heels with 61 catches for 776 yards and five touchdowns, surpassing 100 receiving yards in each of his final three games. At a substantially stronger 6-4 and 205 pounds, the sophomore has the long stride to gallop past defensive backs and the leaping ability to sky above them. He also exhibited advanced ball skills and route-running for such a young player. Above all else, the staff has been impressed by the way Davis prepares, working as if he's the walk-on still looking to earn his spot on the depth chart.
The oldest receiver on the roster, junior Sean Tapley, is getting his first really good shot at a starring role for the Heels. Sure, he started in 2012, but only managed to catch 26 passes for 361 yards and five touchdowns. He has natural passing skills, but just needs to do a more consistent job of getting separation on defenders.
In the team's three-wide sets, 6-2, 200-pound sophomore Kendrick Singleton could be given a chance to start very early in his career. He's both big and physical, showing his tenacity on special teams as opposed to offense in 2012. He didn't catch a single pass, but did make a dozen special teams tackles.
Davis will be the primary target of Bryn Renner. Next on the quarterback's to-do list will be to find the location of 6-4, 245-pound Eric Ebron . The junior tight end earned a spot on the All-ACC Second Team in 2012 by nabbing 40 balls for 625 yards and four touchdowns; those 40 receptions were a single-season school record for a tight end. Much more than just a safety net on intermediate routes, Ebron has the gait and the hops to exploit the seam of the defense. The future NFL H-back will again be an underrated component of the passing game, creating mismatches with opposing defenses.
The Heels are eager to get back 6-0, 200-pound sophomore T.J. Thorpe, who missed 2012 and sat out the spring with a foot injury. The dynamite return man two years ago has the speed and elusiveness to become an important weapon off the bench as soon as he's cleared to play.
Keeping Ebron from becoming complacent at tight end is 6-3, 240-pound Jack Tabb, who's like having a second starter at the position. The junior gives the Heels another all-around gifted big target in the passing game, making 12 grabs for 144 yards and a touchdown a season ago.
Watch Out For .... Davis to quickly ascend to the upper echelon of ACC pass-catchers. The sophomore was terrific in his debut, most of which was purely the result of his physical ability. Now that he's a year wiser—and has added 20 good pounds—the sky is the limit for the precocious Tar Heel wideout.
Strength: The tight ends. The wide receivers are on the rise, but the tight ends are already closing in on their ceiling. How good is the unit? Ebron was named all-league in 2012, catching 40 balls, yet there was an ‘OR' listed between his name and Tabb's on the post-spring depth chart.
Weakness: Proven receivers. Davis is on the launching pad, but he's going to receive way too much attention unless someone else steps up and absorbs a little of the heat. Can Tapley be that guy? Thorpe if he gets healthy? Carolina needs more than one reliable target in order for the passing game to click at optimum efficiency.
Outlook: Davis is an unmitigated up-and-comer, and the tight ends will again be underrated tools for QB Bryn Renner. However, the Tar Heels still need to build up their depth on the outside. Davis can't carry the receiver corps on his back, which is going to force some of the younger targets to grow up in a hurry.
Now that three starters, including first-round NFL Draft pick Jonathan Cooper, have graduated, senior LT James Hurst is poised to become the unrivaled anchor of the Carolina O-line. The 6-7, 305-pounder has been named All-ACC Second Team in consecutive years, ensuring that QB Bryn Renner gets the time needed to check down his receivers. Hurst has become a fixture in the trenches for the Tar Heels, using his long arms and light feet to keep some of the league's better pass rushers from getting out of their blocks. No. 68 was a key cog in a line that ranked No. 9 nationally in sacks allowed in 2012.
The program feels it has another all-star-caliber blocker at the pivot with C Russell Bodine . The 6-4, 310-pounder enjoyed a terrific first year in the lineup, seamlessly replacing Cam Holland in the middle of the line. He's tough and nasty, bringing much-needed attitude to the interior of the Carolina front wall.
The favorite to join Hurst at tackle on the right side is 6-4, 295-pound sophomore Kiaro Holts, the 2011 five-star find from Indianapolis. The coaching staff loves his potential, especially as a pass protector. The likely heir apparent at left tackle has great feet to go along with the upper body strength needed to move a pile.
The development of the new guards will be watched very closely. Taking over for Cooper to the left of center is 6-5, 300-pound redshirt freshman Caleb Peterson . The Auburn, Ala. native had offers from the Tigers and the Tide, yet decided to become a Tar Heel. His strengths will be his size, power and mean streak as a run blocker.
The graybeard of the guards is 6-4, 320-pound sophomore Landon Turner. He'll have the benefit of three starts from 2012, helping flatten the learning curve as he adapts to a full-time role this fall. Once of the country's top guard recruits of 2011 continues to be hailed for his skills as a drive blocker.
One of the more versatile interior linemen coming off the bench will be 6-3, 290-pound sophomore Jarrod James. Yet another recent coveted recruit of the Tar Heels, he can play guard, but will be shifting this offseason to center to back up Bodine.
Watch Out For .... the teaching ability of assistant coach Chris Kapilovic. It's an important offseason for the Heels' line coach, who'll be responsible for getting his younger blockers ready for the opener with South Carolina. Kids like Holts, Peterson and Turner have high ceilings; Kapilovic will be working overtime to be sure they reach them as quickly as possible.
Strength: Drive blocking. Cooper is gone, as is star RB Giovani Bernard. But there's a sense of calm around the program that Carolina will again flourish on the ground. The linemen are big, strong and determined, a recipe for gaping holes for Bernard's successors.
Weakness: Depth. Even with the loss of three starters, the retooled should be fine thanks to the recent recruiting of the coaches. However, the Heels get young in a hurry behind the starting lineup. If injuries strike the O-line in 2013, it's currently ill-equipped to handle the misfortune.
Outlook: The Tar Heels are coming off a fantastic season in the trenches, but maintaining a high level of play will be a challenge. Led by Cooper, three talented veterans must be replaced. Hurst and Bodine are the kinds of blockers on which foundations are erected, but the ultimate fate of the front wall will rest with a swath of underclassmen getting their first chances to run with the first team.
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