2008 North Carolina Preview - Offense
North Carolina WR Hakeem Nicks
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Offense
Carolina Tar Heels
Preview 2008 - Offense
2008 CFN North
2008 UNC Offense
2008 UNC Defense
2008 UNC Depth
2007 CFN UNC Preview
2006 CFN UNC Preview
What you need to know:
If not for
Duke, North Carolina would be home to the ACC’s worst offense
over the last two seasons. The Heels made modest progress in
John Shoop’s first season as coordinator, yet still averaged
only 21 points a game. Part of the problem can be traced to
having a freshman under center and losing presumptive starting
RB Barrington Edwards before the season ever started. Neither
will be issues in 2008. Carolina welcomes back record-setting QB
Yates, who’ll have to cut back on his mistakes to hold off
hard-charging Cam Sexton and Mike Paulus. Whoever gets the ball
will enjoy throwing to a stocked receiving corps that’s led by
Hakeem Nicks, and handing the ball to Greg Little, a sophomore
on the verge of a breakthrough season.
Passing: T.J. Yates
218-365, 2,655 yds, 14 TD, 18 INT
Rushing: Johnny White
95 carries, 399 yds, 0 TD
Receiving: Hakeem Nicks
74 catches, 958 yds, 5 TD
of the offense:
Junior WR Hakeem Nicks
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore RB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE Zack Pianalto
Best pro prospect: Nicks
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Nicks 2) Senior WR
Brandon Tate 3) Senior T Garrett Reynolds
Strength of the offense: The receivers
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, consistency
Projected Starter: Sophomore T.J. Yates
already owns the school single-season record for passing yards
and completions, but numbers alone won’t earn him another season
at the controls. Instead, he’ll need to raise the level of his
game after throwing 18 interceptions to go along with 14
touchdown passes and those Carolina-best 2,655 yards. Still
somewhat raw in his development, Yates only played two years of
high school ball and missed the spring to recover from shoulder
surgery. At 6-3 and 205 pounds, he has a nice pocket presence,
adequate arm strength, and the footwork needed to play behind
the Heels’ sketchy offensive line.
Projected Top Reserves: Yates’ absence in March
and April allowed more reps for junior Cam Sexton and
redshirt freshman Mike Paulus to impress the coaching
staff. Unlike Yates, Sexton had a rough freshman season in
Chapel Hill, throwing twice as many interceptions as touchdowns
as a part-time starter. He hasn’t recovered since, but did have
a great off-season that included spending time with passing guru
Tom Martinez, Tom Brady's personal quarterback coach. The
athletic, 6-1 and 190-pounder is the former starter who’s
pushing to get back now, and not just be the No. 2 man in the
Paulus was one of Butch Davis’ first blue-chip recruits of 2007,
a 6-5, 215-pound pro-style quarterback that moves surprisingly
well when flushed out of the pocket. Blessed with a fantastic
arm, he has the physical tools needed to excel in the ACC, but
has a lot of ground to make up on two players who have the
obvious edge in experience.
Watch Out For ... somewhere other than Yates to
start the opener. The opportunity is there for either Sexton or
Paulus to steal the job away from the incumbent. Sexton has
attacked the offseason as if he plans to get the ball when
McNeese State visits August. 30, and Paulus has the most upside
and physical ability of the three competitors.
Strength: Competition. There isn’t a ton of
separation between the three quarterbacks, which means they’ll
be pushing each other hard right up until the opener.
Collectively, the Tar Heel quarterbacks must improve, and the
presence of competition will only hasten the process.
Weakness: Turnovers. Over the last four seasons,
North Carolina has thrown a ridiculous 60 interceptions,
including 18 by Yates a year ago. If the Tar Heels are truly a
program on the rise, it’s imperative that the quarterbacks begin
slashing their number of bad reads and forced throws.
Outlook: Although Yates is the guy for now, he
won’t be handed the job, especially after getting shut down
throughout the spring with the shoulder injury. He’ll have to
take it up a notch to stay ahead of hard-charging Sexton and
Projected Starters: This time last year, sophomore
Greg Little was a rookie wide receiver trying to avoid a
redshirt year. Today, he’s the Tar Heels’ feature back and on
the verge of a big season. Little switched positions last
November, responding with 247 yards and two touchdowns as a
starter in the final two games. At 6-3 and 210 pounds, he’s a
tremendous all-around athlete that has Butch Davis drawing
comparisons to a young Willis McGahee. A thoroughbred who can
grind out the tough yards or bust through the line for big
plays, Little will also factor heavily into the passing game
because of his experience as a receiver.
Strictly a lead blocker that’ll catch the occasional pass out of
the backfield, 5-11, 250-pound junior Bobby Rome returns
as the starting fullback. A decent blocker that’ll get leverage
on his man, he’s had 23 receptions over the past two seasons
compared to just seven carries.
Projected Top Reserves: Last year’s second-leading
rusher, Anthony Elzy, is moving to fullback, where he’ll
back up Rome, and provide more of a threat as a runner. The
5-10, 210-pound sophomore ran for 321 yards and five touchdowns
on 92 carries, showing good power between the tackles and the
hands needed to mimic the H-back in John Shoop’s offense.
Providing relief to Little will be a pair of pile drivers, 6-2,
255-pound sophomore Ryan Houston and 6-2, 240-pound
redshirt freshman Devon Ramsay. Houston saw action as a
rookie, rushing for 145 yards and a score on 44 carries,
flashing plenty of potential as a short yardage option. If the
sophomore is to earn an increased role, he must maintain his
fluctuating weight and improve his stamina. Ramsay used his time
with the scout team wisely, impressing the staff and getting
bigger and stronger in the weight room. Capable of playing
fullback as well as handling the carries, he’s also a potential
threat to Rome’s playing time.
Watch Out For ... an end to the running back by
committee that persisted last year. Davis is looking for a
workhorse that can handle 20-25 carries a game, a role that’s
going to be handled by Little.
Strength: Big backs. None of the Tar Heels’
primary runners are less than 210 pounds, or the type of backs
that are going to dance in the hole. Little, and especially
Houston and Ramsay, are north-south battering rams that’ll
soften defenses and be tough to push back near the goal line.
Weakness: Experience. Little has loads of upside,
but he also has just a pair of starts to his name. Elzy is the
graybeard, and he’s just a sophomore who’s being moved to
Outlook: The running game has to make strides
after finishing 107th nationally, and failing to
produce a 500-yard back. Johnny White and Richie Rich have been
shifted to the defensive backfield, a clear signal that the
coaching believes Little is ready to be the every-down back, and
Houston and Ramsay can provide reliable support in backup roles.
All but two of last year’s 220 receptions are back in Chapel
Hill as the Tar Heels are loaded depth and experience. Holding
the banner for the wide receivers is junior Hakeem Nicks,
a rising star in this offense and a returning member of the
All-ACC Second Team. A physical 6-1, 210-pounder with good deep
speed, he had a school-record 74 catches for 958 yards and five
touchdowns. If opposing defenses try to double Nicks, seniors
Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster will make them pay.
Interchangeable parts of the rotation, they’re a pair of
field-stretching veterans who can play the role of No. 1 if
The 6-1, 195-pound Tate, who doubles as one of the ACC’s better
return men, caught a career-high 25 passes a year ago for 479
yards and five touchdown catches. Foster was second the team
with 29 receptions for 417 yards and a pair of scoring catches.
At 6-3 and 205 pounds, he’s the biggest of the primary targets,
and a former basketball star who can outleap most defensive
When North Carolina uses a traditional tight end, they’ll call
who made four catches in eight starts last year. The 6-4,
260-pound senior has decent hands, but has more value to the
offense as a third guard in the running game.
Conversely, when the offense inserts an H-Back into the lineup,
6-4, 240-pound sophomore Zack Pianalto will come off the
bench. An eight-game starter as a true freshman, he excelled in
the Tar Heel passing game, catching 24 passes and earning some
Freshman All-America honors.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Kenton Thornton
has mostly played on special teams the last two seasons,
catching eight passes for 87 yards, but will be fighting in the
offseason to get on the field in four-wide sets. At 6-4, 230
pounds, he’s built like a tight end, yet moves like a receiver
who can make catches in traffic.
Thornton’s competition for the second unit will come from
massive redshirt freshman Rashad Mason, one of the Heels’
prized recruits of 2007. Still looking to improve his technique
and route running, he’s a 6-5, 220-pound long ball threat that
factors prominently into the future at wide receiver for
Watch Out For ... Pianalto. After scratching the
surface of his potential as a true freshman, Pianalto is ready
to make even better use of a field that’ll be spread out by a
dangerous collection of Tar Heel wideouts. A former target of
now USC backup Mitch Mustain’s at Springdale (Ark.) High School,
he’s an ace pass-catcher that could double his production in
Strength: Depth at receiver. In Nicks, Tate, and
Foster, the Tar Heels have three receivers good enough to start
and be the guy at times. Nicks provides star power, while
Tate and Foster are outstanding complements who prevent defenses
from doubling No. 88.
Weakness: Too much of a reliance on one player.
It’s a luxury having a player of Nicks’ caliber, but Carolina
still needs to spread out the production in order to keep
defenses from stacking one side of the field. After Nicks’
team-high 74 receptions, the next busiest Tar Heel only had 29
Outlook: Provided it gets more consistency from
the quarterback, this corps of receivers has the potential and
experience to be among the best ever in Chapel Hill. Nicks will
again be the playmaker on the outside, while Pianalto emerges as
a steady drop-off in underneath routes.
Projected Starters: The Tar Heels lose just one
letterman from a group that was overmatched throughout much of
the 2007 season. The strength of the unit is on the right side,
featuring returning starters Calvin Darity and Garrett
Reynolds at guard and tackle, respectively.
After missing time in 2005, Darity has started 24 consecutive
games, grading out at 74% with 27 knock-downs as a junior. At
6-3 and 310 pounds, he’s a solid run blocker, but still needs
help in pass protection.
The 6-7, 310-pound Reynolds is coming off the best season of any
Carolina lineman, posting a grade of 88% and 51 knock-downs,
both team-highs. Blossoming at the right time in his career, he
has the potential to close out his senior season on the All-ACC
The biggest void is in the middle, where Scott Lenehan ran out
of eligibility. The favorite to step into the lineup is junior
Lowell Dyer, a heady 6-3, 280-pounder that started six
valuable games when Lenehan was injured. More athletic than he
is powerful, he’ll struggle against at the point of attack
against some of the league’s bigger defensive tackles.
Anchoring the left side of the line is junior tackle Kyle
Jolly, a 6-6, 300-pounder who sat out spring to nurse a
broken foot. A 12-game starter as a sophomore, he posted a 78%
blocking grade to go along with 31 knock-downs. A former tight
end with good footwork and athletic ability, he still has work
to do before becoming a complete lineman.
The battle at left guard got interesting when last year’s
starter, junior Aaron Stahl, was moved further inside to
compete with Dyer. The staff feels Stahl is a better center than
guard, which prompted the switch. One option to succeed Stahl is
last year’s backup Bryon Bishop, a 6-3, 300-pound senior,
who only saw action in two games, and will be pressed hard for
playing by a wave of bigger underclassmen with more upside
Projected Top Reserves: At tackle, depth will come
from a pair of untested underclassmen, redshirt freshman Carl
Gaskins and sophomore Mike Ingersoll. Ingersoll is
6-5 and 295 pounds, and is further along in his development
after earning a letter and playing in six games a year ago.
Gaskins has yet to play a down, but also at 6-5 and 295 pounds,
has the frame and the athletic ability that has the coaching
staff raving about his upside potential.
Bishop is vulnerable at left guard, meaning there’s an
opportunity for sophomore Alan Pelc and redshirt freshman
Kevin Bryant to win a job with a strong summer camp. Pelc
is a massive, 6-6, 325-pounder that appeared in three games as a
rookie. A tenacious blocker who gets a good push on running
plays, he brings physicality to the Tar Heel line that’s been
sorely lacking. As hard as it is to imagine, Bryant is even
bigger, coming in at 6-7 and 350 pounds. A mauler with
incredible upper body strength, he’ll be impossible to keep off
the field once he gets in better shape and hones his
Watch Out For ... the kids. While there’s only a
jump ball at left guard, the underclassmen, such as Pelc,
Bryant, and Ingersoll, are prepared to storm the depth chart and
become fixtures on the B team. The coaches love the potential of
their neophytes, and won’t be afraid to use them if the first
unit underperforms again.
Strength: The right side. The Tar Heels would be
wise to do the majority of their running to the right of center,
where Reynolds and Darity are evolving into competent blockers
on the brink of becoming all-league type players.
Weakness: Consistency. The Carolina line had
moments a year ago, but still allowed way too many sacks, while
not opening up enough holes for the backs. If the offense is
going to have a chance in 2008, this unit has to be markedly
more consistent than it was in 2007.
Outlook: If the Tar Heels are going to improve on
last year’s mealy 21 points and 325 yards a game, it’ll be up to
the line to gel and begin winning a few battles in the trenches.
Reynolds is poised to make some noise in his last year, but
needs a lot more help from the rest of the unit. Ideally, the
veterans get the job done, while the kids earn letters and
valuable reps coming off the bench.