2010 North Carolina Preview – Offense
North Carolina RB Greg Little
North Carolina RB Greg Little
Posted Jul 16, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - North Carolina Tar Heel Offense

North Carolina Tar Heels

Preview 2010 - Offense

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What you need to know: Coordinator John Shoop has the most important job in Chapel Hill this year—locating a pulse on his Tar Heel offense. A year after finishing 108th nationally and averaging just 22 points against teams not named The Citadel, this unit has become the program's biggest hurdle to an ACC championship. There is no shortage of objectives over the next few months. Topping the list will be getting more consistent play from QB T.J. Yates, who's trying to hold off hot-shot redshirt freshman Bryn Renner. Carolina also needs to get a little more pop from the running game, bring along the gifted young receivers, and plug holes in a mediocre offensive line. If Shoop can somehow pull everything together, go ahead and put him on the Broyles Award short list.

Returning Leaders
Passing: T.J. Yates
214-355, 2,136 yds, 14 TDs, 15 INTs
Rushing: Ryan Houston
191 carries, 713 yds, 9 TDs
Receiving: Greg Little
62 catches, 724 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Senior WR Greg Little
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior QB T.J. Yates
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Erik Highsmith
Best pro prospect: Little
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Little, 2) Senior RB Shaun Draughn, 3) Senior TE Zack Pianalto
Strength of the offense: Physical runners, size of the receivers
Weakness of the offense: The offensive line, consistency at quarterback, red zone scoring, sustaining drives, big plays, turnovers


Projected Starter: There isn't a player or a position that's more critical to Carolina's 2010 fate than senior T.J. Yates and the quarterbacks. And it's not even close. The program that hasn't produced an All-ACC hurler since Chris Keldorf in 1996 is pinning its hopes on an inconsistent fourth-year starter, who's thrown nearly as many career picks as touchdowns. The 6-3, 220-pounder regressed as a junior, going 214-of-355 for 2,136 yds, 14 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. However, it wasn't all his fault. The receiving corps was brand new and the line play was spotty. He has the physical tools to finish strong, but needs to make sizable strides with his reads and overall decision-making.

Projected Top Reserves: One of the most popular players in Chapel Hill has never taken a snap. Redshirt freshman Bryn Renner is the presumed future at the position, but there are a growing number of fans hoping he's the present as well. He has a world of upside, throws a great ball, and is the best athlete among the quarterbacks. It does remain to be seen, though, whether he can narrow the vast experience divide on a veteran of 31 starts. The transfer of Mike Paulus to William & Mary has created a clear path to no worse than No. 2.

The likely third-stringer will once again be 6-6, 200-pound sophomore Braden Hanson, an accurate lefty, who saw limited action in three games a year ago. Pursued by a handful of Big Ten and Big 12 schools coming out of high school, he'll continue to learn the system while pushing Renner for the coveted backup job.

Watch Out For .... Yates to hold on to the job for the opener. His edge in experience cannot be overstated, especially with LSU sitting in Atlanta for the Sept. 4 Chick-fil-A Kickoff. For Renner to unseat a three-year starter, he'll have to be exceptional over the next three months, a situation complicated by his participation in Carolina baseball as well.
Strength: Experience. Forget for a second the mechanics, fundamentals, and reads of Yates. As a fourth-year starter, he's practically seen and done it all, which should never be underestimated at the quarterback position.
Weakness: Execution. Sure, Yates looks the part and has a thick resume, but the results rarely match expectations. For his career, he's thrown 39 touchdown passes to 37 interceptions, and hasn't been the same since Hakeem Nicks left early for the NFL. His average of less than 10 yards a completion was among the feeblest in America.
Outlook: A second year with all of those gifted young receivers should help elevate Yates, but by how much? While he doesn't need to necessarily win games for the Tar Heels, he does need to cut down on his mistakes and pop a few more big plays than last season. On a team with a championship defense and a precocious young backup, he'll be under the microscope like never before.
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Thanks to an injury late last season, Carolina now has two veterans with starting experience. The feature back, 6-0, 210-pound senior Shaun Draughn, started the first nine games before fracturing his shoulder blade and missing the rest of the season. He wound up running for 567 yards and a score on 124 carries, adding 21 receptions on 125 yards. A tough, north-south operator, he runs with good vision through the hole and will break through arm tackles. Back at full strength, he should get more than 200 touches in his final year.

The Heels' primarily lead blocker is 6-2, 245-pound junior Devon Ramsay. An improving blocker and powerful player, he'll be used on special teams and has the hands to occasionally be a part of the passing game.

Projected Top Reserves: When Draughn went down, senior Ryan Houston moved into the lineup and afforded himself rather well. He started the final four games and finished with a team-high 713 yards and nine touchdowns on 191 carries. A 6-2, 245-pound battering ram between the tackles, he won't make people miss, but he's a load in short yardage and will deploy your airbag when he lowers his shoulder and drives his legs.

When the Tar Heels want a little flash out of the backfield, it can turn to 5-10, 205-pound senior Johnny White. A versatile athlete, with legitimate 4.4 speed, he's done a little bit of everything for the program, including playing on defense and special teams. Last year, he rushed for 143 yards and a score on 19 carries, caught seven passes for 66 yards and a score, made 16 special teams tackles, and handle kickoffs.

Watch Out For .... Draughn to grind out enough carries to approach 1,000 yards. Has it really been 13 years since Jonathan Linton was the last Tar Heel to reach the milestone on the ground? So much for Running Back U. With a little more support from the line and enough touches, Draughn is capable of snapping the dry spell.
Strength: Physicality. All three of Carolina's primary ballcarriers will hit the hole with vengeance, shed arm tackles, and drive ahead for extra yardage. There isn't a back to be found on the roster who's south of 205 pounds, and Draughn and Houston can wear down defenses by the fourth quarter.
Weakness: Big-play ability. If ever a program represented three yards and a cloud of dust, this is it. For the second straight season, Carolina could only muster an average of 3.5 yards a carry, rarely getting one of the backs out of traffic and into the open field. Draughn's long ball was a 44-yarders, highlighting a lack of pop on the ground.
Outlook: A healthy Draughn and Houston make the running game serviceable, but not dynamic enough to build an offense around. The Tar Heel backs are basically a collection of pluggers, who can move the chains and milk the clock. Anything more than that will be outside their 2010 job description.
Rating: 7

Projected Starters: Now that the training wheels are coming off, it might be time for the receivers to start rolling. Carolina was painfully young at the position last fall, usually a gaggle of freshmen in the aftermath of losing Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate, and Brooks Foster. The lone exception was senior Greg Little, who became the go-to guy after bouncing around earlier in his career, catching a team-best 62 catches for 724 yards and five scores. A physical 6-3, 215-pounder, he's also a smooth enough athlete to eventually play on Sundays.

The freshman going from 0 to 60 the fastest in 2009 was second-year standout Erik Highsmith, who cracked the lineup early and went on to catch 37 balls for 425 yards and two touchdowns. Long and lean at 6-3 and 175 pounds, he has the gait to glide past defensive backs even when it looks as if he's not pushing it. He'll benefit from adding some muscle in order to beat jams at the line.

If 6-4, 255-pound senior Zack Pianalto can ever stay healthy for an entire season, look out. He's battled injuries throughout his career, yet remains one of the most reliable targets among the receivers. Even after missing five games with a foot injury, he still set a school record for catches by a tight end, making 33 for 334 yards and a touchdown. More of an H-back than a traditional tight, he has good hands and knows how to find soft spots in the defense.

Projected Top Reserves: Freshman Joshua Adams started the first two games of 2009 as a rookie, making three grabs for 49 yards, but suffered a shoulder injury that forced him to use a medical redshirt. At 6-4 and 200 pounds, he's the type of physical specimen who'll use his long arms and leaping ability to simply pluck balls out of the air. With four years of eligibility left, he's eager to pick up where he left off before getting hurt.

It'll be hard keeping 6-2, 185-pound sophomore Jheranie Boyd off the field this fall. Another gem from the 2009 class, who turned down the likes of Oklahoma and Florida to play in Chapel Hill, he showed flashes with a dozen receptions for 214 yards and four touchdowns as a reserve. He can jump out of the stadium, has good top end speed, and the soft hands often reserved for more experienced players.

The Heels are still waiting for 6-4, 220-pound junior Dwight Jones to approach the hype that surrounded his signing three years ago. A local can't-miss prospect, he only caught five passes for 21 yards and is in danger of being passed by the underclassmen. He has all of the physical tools to be successful, but a lack of consistency has kept them from translating into snaps and production.

When Carolina needs a tight end for blocking and obvious running plays, it'll summons 6-3, 260-pound senior Ed Barham off the bench. The better blocker than Pianalto and an unselfish player, he did manage to catch a career-high six passes for 57 yards and a score last fall.

Watch Out For .... the competition at wide receiver to be dialed up a notch or two. Little is safe, but after the senior, the Tar Heels are busting at the seams with tremendous young talent. Highsmith, Adams, and Boyd have lofty ceilings and the physical gifts to someday be all-stars. None of the three will be content with sporadic reps or limited chances to make plays.
Strength: Raw physical ability. Sure, they're young, but the Tar Heels might have as much size and physical ability at wide receiver and tight end than any other ACC school. All of them are no smaller than 6-2, have good wheels, and can sky above defensive backs to make plays.
Weakness: Inexperience. With youth comes certain problems that don't go away without time and a lot of practice. The three-deep is still flush with young kids, who are prone to making body catches, running poor routes, and being out of place. It's unavoidable.
Outlook: Unlike a year ago, the situation is far better. Little has emerged as a legit go-to guy and the second-year players are loaded with talent and potential. If Pianalto can remain upright for 12 games and even one of the sophomores blossoms, the passing game will be markedly more dangerous than in 2009.
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The Tar Heels must replace two starters from a line that was wrought with mediocrity a year ago. Taking over for Kyle Jolly at left tackle will be 6-5, 300-pound junior Carl Gaskins, who sat out all of 2009 with a torn ACL. He was limited in the spring, but is expected to be at full strength when the team reconvenes. He has good size and uncommon athleticism, running a 4.87 in the 40, best ever for a Carolina lineman.

Back at right tackle will be 6-5, 300-pound senior Mike Ingersoll, a starter in all but one game last season. A versatile and intelligent athlete, with previous experience at guard, center, and even tight end, he graded out at 75% and had 37 knockdowns. He'll spend the offseason trying to fend off the challenge of 6-7 and 285-pound sophomore Brennan Williams.

With Lowell Dyer graduating, 6-3, 295-pound sophomore Jonathan Cooper is making a closely-watched relocation to center from guard, where he started 10 games in 2009. He graded out at 73% and had a team-high 40 knockdowns, despite missing three games. He moves very well and has the hands of a former wrestler, yet will drive block as well as any of the Tar Heels.

At left guard, 6-6, 325-pound Alan Pelc will return for his third season as a starter as soon as he fully recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Arguably Carolina's most complete lineman and most physical blocker, he had a team-best 78% grade from the coaching staff and 38 knockdowns.

The freshest face among the likely starters is 6-7, 320-pound sophomore Travis Bond, the favorite at right guard. He put down a nice foundation in his debut out of high school, playing in every game, starting the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and averaging about 20 snaps an appearance. He came a long way in his first year, and has a great future in Chapel Hill.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Greg Elleby is an ideal individual to have on the second unit pushing for more playing time. A former defensive lineman, who's logged a lot of minutes as a Tar Heel, he made a successful shift to offense last fall, starting four games at guard and getting in on 284 snaps. He'll be even more confident in his second year at the position.

Just in case Cooper is ill-prepared for his new assignment, Carolina can turn to 6-2, 310-pound junior Cam Holland, a seven-game starter at the pivot last season. A solid all-around backup, who graded out at 74% and had 17 knockdowns, he'll continue to have a key role in the rotation.

Watch Out For .... true freshman James Hurst. Already on campus and already listed behind Gaskins on the depth chart, Hurst is not going to redshirt in his debut season. A 6-7, 305-pound blue-chipper from Indiana, he chose to play for North Carolina instead of Ohio State, Florida, Notre Dame, and Georgia.
Strength: Footwork. In general, the Tar Heel interior is home to some rather athletic blockers, who move well and are in good shape. They're not your typical wide-bodies, who can get exposed outside the box and gassed in the second half of games.
Weakness: Run blocking. The biggest concern surrounding the Carolina front wall is that it doesn't move many opponents off the line of scrimmage. Because of that limitation, the running game has suffered in recent years, failing to spring the backs for more than three or four yards a pop. Last year's team was held under 100 yards on five different occasions.
Outlook: This remains an average group with an above average task; become more imposing at the point of contact. Where's the road-grader, who can create more daylight for Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston to roam? There's upside in the form of Gaskins, Cooper, and Bond, but the entire group needs to gel and play much better than recent years.
Rating: 6.5

- 2010 North Carolina Preview | 2010 North Carolina Offense
- 2010 North Carolina Defense | 2010 North Carolina Depth Chart
- North Carolina Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006