Shoop, Part V: Receiver Opportunities

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- This spring there will be a stark contrast between the tight end and wide receiver positions at North Carolina.

At the tight end position UNC loses 79 receptions from 2010. Ryan Taylor set the school record for receptions with 36, and Zack Pianalto would have shattered it had he remained healthy – he still had 30 grabs in just six games. Ed Barham added 13 catches from the "Y," or traditional tight end spot.

"It's an awful lot of production (missing), but I tell you what, I couldn't have more confidence in a coach than I do Coach Mo (tight end coach Allen Mogridge). He finds a way to get these guys ready. I mean, Zack Pianalto is leading the ACC in receptions when he goes down, so Ryan comes in and sets a new school record."

Meanwhile, the Tar Heels do not lose any wide receivers in 2011 that had a catch last season.

"Everybody's coming back from that group," Shoop said. "So, there's some experience. Everybody's coming back. Last year we lost our leading receiver when Greg was gone and, these guys, I think, stepped up."

This spring the Tar Heels will be without a couple of those receivers, Josh Adams, for medical reasons, and Todd Harrelson, who is concentrating on academics. But there are new faces entering the fold -- a couple of red-shirt freshmen, Sean Tapley and Reggie Wilkins, and a true freshman in T.J. Thorpe, who enrolled in January.

At tight end, the numbers will be down this spring; there are only three scholarship players available as of today – H-backs Christian Wilson and Sean Fitzpatrick, and Y-End Nelson "Nelly" Hurst. While some talented freshmen, Eric Ebron and Jack Tabb, arrive this summer, the spring workload will fall on the shoulders of Wilson, Fitzpatrick, and Hurst.

"Christian Wilson, this is what he's been working his tail off for, this opportunity," Shoop said. "Nelson Hurst, he's going to be just fine at the "Y" spot. We're excited about him.

"I think this guy, (Sean) Fitzpatrick, is as hungry as anyone, and we've recruited two really young guys that we think are going to be really good. I've got a great deal of confidence in them. We need them to have that production, but they'll be there."

At wide receiver, Shoop know he has a budding superstar on his hands with Dwight Jones, who emerged when Greg Little was ruled ineligible to play.

"Last year we lost our leading receiver when Greg was gone and, these guys, I think, stepped up. We're counting on Dwight to be everything he was and more. He knows that and is approaching it that way."

Even with everyone back, Shoop believes there is a lot of work to do at the wide receiver spots, and takes responsibility for the deficiencies that need to be corrected.

"We need to have more production opposite Dwight," Shoop said. "We need that, and some of that falls on me as well, in terms of scheming it. Because, we've got some players that can fill that void.

"I've said all along, endurance and durability are the most underrated qualities in a football player. The first third of the season I think Jhay Boyd was as good as anybody in the country. We've got to get that out of Jhay for the last two-thirds of the season as well."

Shoop, characteristically, chooses to point to himself as the guy who has to make it all fit together.

"I say ‘we,' and I'm pointing my thumb at myself," Shoop continued. "How can I help (Boyd) be the player he's is capable of being? Because we've all seen flashes of it. I think Josh Adams has shown flashes; I think Erik Highsmith has shown absolute flashes. We love some of these young guys that we red-shirted last year – Tapley and Reggie Wilkins.

"So, I think the opportunity is going to be there for someone to really fill that void and give us some production opposite of Dwight, they've just got to make the decision of who it's going to be. I promise you, players make decisions on playing time, not coaches."

Last season several players, offensively and defensively, had to step into roles that they didn't anticipate in the preseason. Over the course of the season, that recurring theme developed into something of a motto - "Next Man Up" - the belief that the next guy in line would pick up the standard and play as well, or perhaps even better, than the guy who was missing. Maybe that has something to do with Shoop's belief that, no matter what production may be missing, new Tar Heels will step up and fill their roles.

"I think Coach (Butch) Davis's leadership quality is such that we don't dwell much on what we don't have, if a guy gets dinged or is missing a game for whatever reason, we don't dwell much in that world; we dwell more on what we do have," Shoop said.

"This is what a program is, and we've got a good foundation," Shoop continued. "In good programs, the next guy steps up. It's also one of the rewarding things in coaching. These guys are ready to do it; I'm anxious to see it, and they're going to get an opportunity in spring ball."

Spring practice begins today – stay tuned for reports from Inside Carolina.

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