Young receivers must catch on for Tar Heels

By Lee Roberts  |   Friday, June 26, 2009  |  Comments( 1 )

North Carolina Tar Heels
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The North Carolina Tar Heels featured one of the most potent wide receiver corps in the ACC in 2008. Even with starting quarterback T.J. Yates missing half the season with an injury, the passing game hardly dipped. The opportunity to throw to Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster is one any quarterback would want. Unfortunately for Yates, all three of those receivers were taken in April's NFL draft. Now, it’s up to a young, unproven receiver corps to make sure the team's passing game produces.

For Yates and his receivers, this offseason has been the most crucial of the Butch Davis era. For the past two seasons, when all else failed, Yates could just throw the ball up to Nicks or deep to Tate and could count on his receivers being in the right place and making a play. This fall, Yates may not have that luxury.

The Heels will have to rely on talented but inexperienced players to take control of the passing game. The veteran on the squad is junior Greg Little, who spent most of last season playing running back. Kenton Thornton is the only other receiver with playing experience, but he caught just one pass for 5 yards.

Don’t feel too sorry for the Tar Heels, though, because while many of their receivers haven’t seen game action, they also are highly touted recruits every program in the country would like to have at their disposal.

The gem of the class is Joshua Adams, who enrolled in January and spent the spring impressing coaches and teammates. Once healed from arthroscopic knee surgery in May, he should be ready to compete for significant playing time. Todd Harrelson, Dwight Jones and Rashad Mason are also players Davis expects to contribute in the passing game.

In order to ease the young receivers into a comfort zone on the field, Yates will also have to look to his tight ends and running backs for safety valves. Zack Pianalto showed flashes of his talent last season despite battling injuries for most of the campaign. He’s a big target at tight end whom Yates must find in the middle of the field. By making his tight end a weapon, it allows his receivers more freedom to work one-on-one against opposing cornerbacks.

Ultimately, the Heels will have a more balanced passing attack without that one go-to receiver like Nicks. The onus will be on these young players to learn the system and develop a rapport with Yates.
Yates must also learn to trust his receivers, despite their youth. If that trust develops, expect another big year out of UNC's passing game.
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About Lee Roberts

Born in Richmond, Va, I moved south to UNC-Chapel Hill for college and received a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. I currently live in Charlotte, NC and cover Auburn, LSU and the ACC.
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