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2009 North Carolina Preview - Offense
North Carolina RB Shaun Draughn
North Carolina RB Shaun Draughn
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 14, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Offense

North Carolina Tar Heels

Preview 2009 - Offense


- 2009 CFN North Carolina Preview | 2009 UNC Offense
- 2009 UNC Defense | 2009 UNC Depth Chart
- 2008 UNC Preview | 2007 UNC Preview | 2006 UNC Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
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

Star of the offense: Junior RB Shaun Draughn

Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior QB T.J. Yates
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Dwight Jones
Best pro prospect: Junior WR Greg Little
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 receiving corps

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: 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.

Lagging 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.   

Watch Out 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.
Strength: 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.   
Weakness: 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 young receivers.  
Rating
: 7

Running Backs

Projected Starters: 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 protector.

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 so coveted.

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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness:
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 plug. 
Outlook: Where 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.
Rating
: 7.5

Receivers

Projected Starters: 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.

A 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.

On the intermediate routes, no one is better than 6-4, 250-pound junior
Zack Pianalto, 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.

Projected 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.

True 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.  
Strength: 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 rebound.
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.
Outlook: 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.
Rating
: 7

Ofensive Linemen

Projected Starters: 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.

The 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.
Strength: 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.
Weakness: 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.
Rating
: 6.5

    

Related Stories
2009 North Carolina Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 14, 2009
2009 North Carolina Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 14, 2009
Schedule Preview: East Carolina
 -by InsideCarolina.com  Jul 14, 2009








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