2009 North Carolina Preview - Offense
North Carolina RB Shaun Draughn
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Offense
Carolina Tar Heels
Preview 2009 - Offense
2009 CFN North
2009 UNC Offense
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What you need to know:
It’s tough losing one NFL-caliber pass-catcher to graduation,
but four? Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate, Brooks Foster, and Richard
Quinn all showcased their skills to scouts at the combine in
February. That’s a nice hook in recruiting, but a problem for
this year’s squad. While the next wave of Heels are busting at
the seams with potential, they’re also very young and very
inconsistent. And if they don’t grow up in a hurry, QB T.J.
Yates and the rest of the offense will suffer the consequences.
As the triggerman of the attack, Yates needs a big season after
Carolina sputtered in 2008, finishing 92nd nationally in total
offense. Former safety Shaun Draughn is back to spur the ground
game, with the help of powerful Ryan Houston. The Heels won’t
frighten or stretch many opponents this fall, meaning the
defense and special teams will be leading the charge once again.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Shaun Draughn
Passing: T.J. Yates
81-135, 1,168 yds, 11 TD, 4 INT
Rushing: Shaun Draughn
196 carries, 866 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: Shaun Draughn
16 catches, 81 yds, 1 TD
Player that has to step up and become a
Junior QB T.J. Yates
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore WR Dwight Jones
Best pro prospect:
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Draughn 2) Senior
LT Kyle Jolly 3) Little
Strength of the offense:
Physical runners, size of the receivers
Weakness of the offense:
The offensive line, consistency at quarterback, revamped
Junior T.J. Yates
returns for his third season as the starter, with a strict
request to become more of a playmaker and the face of the
offense. His sophomore season was limited to seven games,
courtesy of an ankle fracture in September. To his credit, he
improved in all areas statistically, going 81-of-135 for 1,168
yards, 11 touchdowns and four picks. The reduction of
interceptions from a year earlier was a sign of maturity and
better reads. A somewhat stationary 6-3, 215-pounder, he’s a
traditional pocket passer with just enough arm strength to make
all of the throws in this offense.
Projected Top Reserves: The transfer of Cam Sexton to
Division II Catawba opens the door for 6-5, 215-pound sophomore
Mike Paulus to
solidify his spot as the first man off the bench. The future at
the position not long ago, he’s been slow to develop in his
first two seasons and looked overwhelmed when he got a chance to
replace Yates last fall. The staff has repeatedly pointed to his
offseason progress with mechanics and throwing motion, but it
won’t mean anything until he does it in games.
behind Yates and Paulus is 6-6, 195-pound redshirt freshman
Braden Hanson, an
accurate lefty looking to get a better grasp of the offensive
system and his place in it. Recruited by a number of Big 12 and
Big Ten schools, he’ll likely spend this season adding weight
and becoming a better student of the game.
For ... the maturation process of Yates. After
two seasons and a bunch of starts, it’s time for him to begin
reaching a new level of production and efficiency. The offense
is going to require it, especially with the turnover taking
place at wide receiver.
Experience up top. Hey, it is always a luxury when your
quarterback is a returning starter, let alone a two-year
regular. Don’t underestimate the stability of someone like
Yates, who knows the system as well as anyone in Chapel Hill,
and is becoming a more cerebral game manager.
The backups. In a little over a year, Yates has had shoulder
surgery and an ankle fracture, so durability is a concern. How
will Paulus respond if he’s thrust into the lineup again this
fall? If last year was any indication, the offense would be in
danger of grinding to a halt now that Sexton isn’t around.
Outlook: Now that Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate, and
Brooks Foster are auditioning for NFL jobs, does Yates regress
to his freshman form? It’s a genuine concern heading into the
season. The junior has to take control of the offense, creating
more big plays and helping elevate the play of the new cast of
My, how things have changed at this position in a short period
of time. This time, last year,
Shaun Draughn was a
safety trying to acclimate himself to the defensive side of the
ball. Today, he’s the feature back and an All-ACC candidate. The
6-0, 205-pound junior helped fill the void in 2008, running 198
times for a team-high 866 yards and three scores. He flashed
outstanding vision and good toughness through the hole, now
needing to become more consistent as a receiver and pass
Primarily a lead blocker who’ll catch the
occasional pass out of the backfield, 5-11, 245-pound senior
Bobby Rome returns as
the starting fullback. A quality blocker who gets underneath the
pads of his guy, he’s had 31 catches over the past three seasons
compared to just seven carries.
Projected Top Reserves: When the
Tar Heels need to move a pile in short yardage, they’ll hand the
ball to 6-2, 245-pound junior
Ryan Houston, the
most physical of the backs. While not much of a threat to break
into the secondary, he’ll dispense punishment when he lowers his
shoulder and drives his legs. As a situational player, he had 77
carries for 299 yards and eight close-range touchdowns.
Most of the buzz in the spring was reserved for redshirt
freshman Jamal Womble,
who may have done enough to earn some touches in the fall. At
5-10 and 220 pounds, he’s a very physical runner, yet can make
people miss in the open field. North Carolina went all the way
to Arizona and beat out the likes of Arizona State, Wisconsin,
and Nebraska to land him. It’s starting to make sense why he was
After bouncing between offense and defense
the last two years, 5-10, 205-pound junior
Johnny White appears
to have found a permanent home at running back. A bona fide 4.3
speedster, he has the jets and acceleration to get on the field
when the offense needs a spark.
Watch Out For
... Womble. Houston is tough. Draughn has some
dazzle. Womble showed a little bit of both in March and April.
If he can take steps in the summer toward becoming a complete
player, he’s going to steal carries from both of his teammates.
Physicality. All three of the Heels’ primary ballcarriers will
hit the hole with authority, shed arm tackles, and drive forward
for extra yardage. Heck, there isn’t a back to be found on the
roster who’s south of 205 pounds.
Explosiveness. It’s a team effort, of course, but
Carolina has to do better than 3.5 yards a carry and 122 yards a
game. Draughn’s longest run was just 39 yards, highlighting a
lack of home run hitters in this attack. Too many three-yard
carries are why White could have value as a situational spark
would the running game be without the development of Draughn? He
was a revelation in 2008, but collectively, more is needed on
the ground, especially if the passing attack is slow to adapt to
all of its changes. If North Carolina wants to achieve more in
2009, it can ill-afford to average under four yards a carry or
finish 89th nationally in rushing.
Someone write a letter to that Ty guy at ABC’s Extreme
Makeover because this unit needs a facelift. Four of last
year’s pass-catchers were at February’s NFL Combine, an
indication of how much talent has departed Chapel Hill. One
player looking to capitalize on the opportunity is junior
Greg Little, who got more reps as a back than a receiver in 2008. A
terrific all-around athlete no matter where he lines up, he
blends good speed with an imposing 6-3, 220-pound frame. If he
can sharpen his route-running and fundamentals, he stands to
soar past last year’s 11 catches for 146 yards.
breakout year is also being expected from sophomore
Dwight Jones, a five-star gem from the 2007 recruiting class. At 6-4
and 220 pounds, he’s the type of tough receiver, who’ll make
catches in transfer and challenge linebackers over the middle.
While not a burner on deep routes, he has big, soft hands, and
will be most effective at moving the chains.
intermediate routes, no one is better than 6-4, 250-pound junior
a hybrid between a tight end and an H-back in the passing game.
The key to having a breakout year will be to stay healthy, which
didn’t happen in 2008. He suffered through ankle and leg
problems, watching his production plummet to just seven catches
for 69 yards and a score. Healthy again, he has the hands and
strength to play an increased role in the passing game.
Top Reserves: Just a few steps behind the
projected starters is sophomore
Rashad Mason, a raw
receiver with obvious natural advantages. At 6-5 and 225 pounds,
he towers over all defenders, making it impossible to stop him
on jump balls. He is, however, an unfinished product, needing to
become more consistent to increase his playing time.
freshman Joshua Adams
made the most out of graduating early, ending spring No. 2 on
the depth chart behind Jones. Physically ready to compete at 6-4
and 200 pounds, he has long arms, exceptional hands, and a
killer instinct when the ball is in the air. Any thoughts of
redshirting him have been dismissed unless a knee injury from
May gets in the way.
Caddying for Little at this point is
6-2, 190-pound redshirt freshman
Todd Harrelson, but
he’s good enough to eventually be one of the focal points of the
passing game. One of the deep threats that this group needs,
he’s capable of getting a step on the secondary and pick up lots
of yards after the catch. Half of the ACC tried to get his
signature a year ago.
Watch Out For ...
incoming freshman Jheranie Boyd. Every bit as heralded as Adams in the latest
recruiting cycle, he turned away the likes of Florida and
Oklahoma en route to becoming a Tar Heel. A 6-3, 185-pound
glider, he’ll be physically ready to compete as soon as he
arrives on campus.
Size. Collectively, these young receivers are just so doggone
big. Not one of them is under 6-2, and players, like Little,
Jones, and Mason, will treat defensive backs like tackling
dummies if they don’t wrap up. On most passing plays, this group
will resemble Roy Williams’ kids hitting the glass for a
Weakness: Safe bets. Hey, the
long-term potential is impossible to ignore, but the Heels are
short on sure-things. Among the wide receivers, Little is the
old pro with 24 career receptions, meaning consistency and
missed assignments could be problems throughout the season. In
March, this group dropped too many passes.
Remember how deep North Carolina was at wide receiver last year?
The program will absolutely get back to that position, but it’s
going to take time. There’s potential oozing from everywhere,
more signs of how well Butch Davis and his staff have been
recruiting. For today, however, this is a work-in-progress
that’ll wow you on one play and disappoint you on the next. Get
them now, ACC, because by 2010 these kids could be unstoppable.
If North Carolina wants to become a national contender someday,
it has to get better up front. In the short term, the program
must patch up a right side of the line that parted ways with
both of last year’s starters. The early leader to succeed
Garrett Reynolds at right tackle is 6-5, 300-pound junior
Mike Ingersoll, who
played in every game as a reserve in 2008. A versatile athlete,
who’s also played some tight end, he’ll be under the microscope
for the first time in his career.
Switching sides to
right guard is 6-6, 325-pound junior
Alan Pelc, a 10-game starter at left guard in 2008. The team’s
recipient of the Newcomer of the Year, he exceeded expectations
after moving into the lineup. A tenacious run blocker, he brings
a no-nonsense physicality to a unit that sorely needs it.
Senior Lowell Dyer
is back at center after starting nine games there a year
ago. The 6-4, 290-pounder always had the smarts and the
fundamentals to play the position, but now he has the experience
as well heading into his final year of eligibility.
anchor of the line will be 6-6, 300-pound senior
Kyle Jolly, returning for his third year as the starting left
tackle. A one-time tight end, he possesses the size, footwork,
and long arms to effectively protect the quarterback’s backside.
After consistently grading above 70% in 2008, he’s on the cusp
of an all-star finale.
Rounding out the line at left
guard is 6-3, 295-pound redshirt freshman
Jonathan Cooper, who
replaces the recently retired Aaron Stahl. He handled first-team
reps in the spring, which will benefit him down the road. While
no mauler, he moves extremely well down the line and uses his
hands like a former high school wrestler.
Projected Top Reserves: Tackle depth will come from a
pair of large sophomores, 6-5, 295-pound
Carl Gaskins on the
left side and 6-7, 340-pound
Kevin Bryant on the right. Both are considered the heir apparents on
the line. While Gaskins is certainly light in experience, he has
the right size and agility that coaches seek at the position.
Barring an injury, he’ll continue to learn behind Jolly before
supplanting him in 2010.
On sheer size alone, Bryant has
Tar Heel fans excited about his future. Difficult to run through
or around, he’ll engulf opposing linemen once he gets his mitts
on them. His girth, however, can be a concern as well. Because
he’ll be lining up across from some of the league’s better
athletes, he’s got to remain in decent shape and somewhat light
on his feet, if that’s possible.
Watch Out For ... problems
against the more physical teams. Who is this group going to
dominate? With Reynolds and Darity gone from the right side, the
line certainly isn’t trending upward, and besides maybe Pelc and
Bryant, it lacks intimidating figures.
Agility. Generally speaking, the Carolina interior is home to
some pretty athletic blockers, who move well and are in decent
shape. They’re not your typical wide-bodies, who are in trouble
outside the box and gassed in the second half.
Run blocking. The biggest problem with the Carolina O-line is
that it doesn’t move many opponents off the line of scrimmage.
Because of that, the running game suffered, especially down the
stretch, when Maryland, NC State, and West Virginia kept it
below 100 yards.
Outlook: This is an average
unit with an above average assignment; become more intimidating
at the point of contact. Where’s the stud, who can carve out a
path for the backs to run down? Carolina was 89th nationally on
the ground in 2008 and 79th in sacks allowed. The offensive line
has to share some culpability for those pedestrian results.