Buck: Fall Questions

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Going into the start of fall camp on Friday, the UNC football team has many issues to address. Inside Carolina breaks down the top ten questions that must be answered before the season opener on Sept. 1st.

10. Who are these guys? - Of the 84 scholarship players, 51 Tar Heels have yet to play in a college game. Though some of these players are familiar to UNC fans through spring practice, a significant group of true freshmen will be practicing in Tar Heel uniforms this fall. A number of these players are expected to contribute this season and fall camp will help determine who those players will be.

9. What is this "H-Back" thing? - While the former coaching regime payed lip service to the idea of an H-back, that position never really showed itself on the field. The new staff, including offensive coordinator John Shoop, seems to be high on the potential of this position in the new offense. The idea is one of a more athletic tight end who can be a threat to receive and run the ball. There are several candidates that possess the physical skills to fill this Joe Gibbs-created position, such as Ryan Taylor and Zach Pianalto.

8. Does speed really kill? – The offseason conditioning program was said to have changed its focus, with more of an emphasis on increasing speed. Will the difference be noticeable? How much progress have the Tar Heels made as a team towards the goal of becoming faster, and perhaps more importantly, playing faster?

7. How strong is the offensive line? – Head coach Butch Davis has stated that the offensive line is one of the strengths of the team he inherited. While most of the starting spots seemed to have been worked out in the spring, some positions on the left side may still see some movement. The new staff has a lot of bodies to work with, but none bigger that true freshman Kevin Bryant, who is 6-7 and just under 400 pounds. The development of the offensive line is something to watch for during fall camp. Three players with starting experience return in Scott Lenahan (11 starts), Calvin Darity (12 starts), and Garrett Reynolds (7 starts) along with a solid group of players heading into their third year in the program.

6. Who's at strong side? - Senior Durell Mapp is perhaps the only known quantity at linebacker, though junior Chase Rice has seen some playing time during his career. Wesley Flagg, who played special teams as a true freshman, seems to have sewn up the middle linebacker spot, while Mapp is the starter on the weak side. True freshman Bruce Carter and Rice may battle in fall camp to determine the strong side starter.

5. Does "new" equal "better"? – The secondary will have a new look this season, with one familiar face returning off injury – junior Trimane Goddard. Sophomore Jermaine Strong started the final five games of 2006, but the Tar Heels will take the field with an entirely different starting lineup than they fielded last fall – strong safety Shaun Draughn, free safety Goddard, Strong, and newcomer red-shirt freshman Kendric Burney form a completely different defensive backfield than the one that started against Rutgers.

4. Who will be the "surprise" player? – Last year highly-touted wide receiver Hakeem Nicks took the practice field in the fall by storm, immediately showing the potential he later demonstrated on the field last season. Every year, it seems some player emerges. One player with that type of potential is true freshman Greg Little, but where will he play? Little is an extraordinarily gifted athlete who could be slotted at any number of positions.

3. Just how good is the defensive line? – Like the offensive line, Davis has singled out the defensive line as a strength of the 2007 Tar Heels. There is starting experience there with seniors Hilee Taylor (12 starts), Kentwan Balmer (11 starts), and Kyndraus Guy (19 starts), and players such as sophomores Cam Thomas and Tavares Brown saw playing time at defensive tackle last season, while sophomore E.J. Wilson earned significant playing time at defensive end. Highly-touted defensive tackle Aleric Mullins joined the team this spring, along with red-shirt freshmen defensive ends Darrius Massenburg, Greg Elleby, and Darius Powell, while junior Garrett White moved to defensive end. Highly-touted freshmen Marvin Austin and Tydreke Powell join the line in fall camp. By my count, the Tar Heels lost one player of significance from the defensive line – Shelton Bynum – and have added seven new players to this unit.

2. Who is running the football? – While senior Justin Warren and sophomore Richie Rich played last year, neither had enough carries to get their uniforms dirty. New faces such as red-shirt freshmen Johnny White, Anthony Elzy, and Anthony Parker-Boyd, as well as true freshmen Ryan Houston and Devon Ramsey, will engage in a free-for-all competition with Warren and Rich to see who lines up in the backfield. Rich had a precarious hold on the position during the spring, but rumors are that Johnny White, now completely healthy, may challenge for supremacy at tailback. One of the biggest question marks of fall camp will be sorting out the contenders for this spot.

1. Who is under center? – It does not come as news to any UNC football fan, but the Tar Heels need to find an effective answer at quarterback. The candidates, sophomore Cam Sexton, red-shirt freshman T.J. Yates, and incoming true freshman Mike Paulus, will all get their shot to prove they can be "The Man." Yates had the edge over Sexton after spring practice, and this issue is likely to be decided relatively soon after fall camp begins and announced shortly thereafter. No single position is more critical for the potential of the 2007 team, and as is often the case, the quarterbacks will be highly scrutinized by the media – and the coaching staff.

Certainly there are many other questions to answer and players to watch during fall camp, and the Inside Carolina staff will bring you the developments as they unfold over the next month on the practice field. Stay tuned …

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