Five Questions for Fall Camp: Offense

The Inside Carolina staff prepares you for the start of practice on Friday by tackling the biggest questions heading into camp.

1) How much better off is the team at quarterback from a year ago?

Greg Barnes: I think there will be a dramatic difference. Butch Davis talked this spring about how all three quarterbacks were much further along in the offense than T.J. Yates was in his first spring practice in 2007. So instead of the quarterbacks still working their way through the playbook in fall camp, all three should be confident in their decision-making abilities, which provides for better competition in practice and ending with better production on the field.

Don Callahan: If T.J. Yates is at 100-percent as expected, the offensive production will improve this season. Unlike last fall, UNC will head into the season with a legit returning starter and the entire three-deep intact – plus add Braden Hanson, who will likely red-shirt, to the stable. While missing spring practice won't help Yates' development, it provided backups Cam Sexton and Mike Paulus with plenty of extra reps.

Buck Sanders: Going into fall camp there is far more clarity at quarterback than a year ago. Yates is the clear number one, so there is no question of splitting fall reps among contenders for the starting spot. Butch Davis says that the number two quarterback is yet to be determined, though Cam Sexton and Mike Paulus battled all spring while Yates was rehabilitating from injury. Having the returning starter back is huge, but it will be interesting to see who the reserve will be. If the staff finds a backup in whom they have confidence, the difference between 2007 and 2008 increases even more.

2) With Greg Little penciled in as the starting running back, which other running back(s) will emerge to fill out the depth chart at the position and earn carries in the opener?

Barnes: While Ryan Houston and Devon Ramsay have the potential to give Little a breather in the backfield, I think the table is set for incoming freshman Jamal Womble. He possesses the size, strength and speed that Davis covets, and depending on how quickly he can pick up the playbook – and more importantly, his blocking assignments – Womble could become a fixture at tailback alongside Little.

Sanders: Davis favored multi-purpose feature backs during his stint at Miami and I don't think he's changed his philosophy on this point. I agree with Greg; Womble will come into fall camp with the opportunity to seize the number two spot, provided he immerses himself in the playbook and picks up his blocking assignments quickly.

Callahan: Houston has the potential to provide thunder to Little's lightning. He obviously has the bulk and power running Little lacks to be a between-the-tackles and short-yardage runner. However, watch out for Womble. He is a cross between Little and Houston – he's capable of running inside and out, and is a receiving threat. However, it remains to be seen if he'll be ready for full-time reps.

3) Will the offensive line finally be able to hold its own or perhaps even outplay the defensive line head-to-head on the practice fields?

Sanders: During spring practice the word was that the North Carolina defense consistently outplayed the offense, and my guess is that the line play played a huge role in this disparity. The offensive line was without one starter, however, because left tackle Kyle Jolly sat out most of spring with an injury. The staff also experimented at center, giving guard Aaron Stahl snaps this spring. In addition, Yates was also on the sidelines and Little was joining the team after having played basketball. You can expect the offensive line to move the needle some, but the defensive line will also have more weapons this fall than it did in the spring. I believe the UNC defensive line will have a decided edge in fall camp.

Barnes: This remains to be seen. If UNC's offensive line had been even average in 2007, I maybe would have taken the bait on this question, but the fact of the matter is that OL coach Sam Pittman's unit was marginal at best. Thirty-six sacks and a 99.2 rushing yards per game average don't inspire much confidence, but it must be noted that a new system and the lack of a legitimate running back until late in the season played a significant role in those statistics. But just because the line is older and more experienced doesn't mean that it will increase production and become a "force" in 2008.

Callahan: The two factors that traditionally lead to better offensive line play are experience and cohesion. The only O-line loss heading into the season is Scott Lenahan, and although he was a solid center, he only started six games due to injury. Four players return on the line that started all 12 games last fall. The defensive line, on the other hand, lacks the experience, but has tremendous upside. Therefore, I think you'll see the offensive line outplay the defensive line early on, but the tide will turn as the season moves.

4) Who will be the "breakout player" on offense?

Callahan: Zack Pianalto, who saw the majority of the offensive snaps last fall, became more of a receiving target as the season progressed. That progression should continue into this season. Pianalto should also benefit from the attention receivers Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate will demand from opponents.

Barnes: Brooks Foster. With versatile weapons at running back (Little) and wide receiver (Tate, Nicks), one player that may be overlooked by opposing defenses is Foster. By all accounts, he is a physical specimen in the weight room, and he's shown the ability over the past two seasons to have some strong performances early in the season. If Yates is as comfortable with the playbook as he suggests, Foster will find numerous one-on-one opportunities in the secondary as opponents focus their primary efforts on Nicks and Tate.

Sanders: Is this a trick question? Little, though he performed well the final two games of the 2007 season, is most likely to receive the most attention as a "breakout" player from the media. For UNC football insiders, however, I think Don nailed this one. Pianalto can become the type of offensive weapon that creates headaches for defensive coordinators with his versatility, hands, and speed at the H-back position.

5) What modification in schemes and strategy will be a focus in camp?

Sanders: The interesting factor to watch as fall camp progresses, in terms of changes or modifications in strategy, is the change in the play clock rules. The clock will start when the previous play is blown dead and offenses will have 40 seconds to snap the ball. Previously, a 25 second clock started only after the referee marked the ball ready for play. With offensive coordinator John Shoop's familiarity with the NFL-type play clock, it will be interesting to see if he incorporates some hurry-up, no-huddle play calls inside of the two minutes before each half to catch defenses in the wrong personnel.

Callahan: With an upgraded running game and a returning starter at quarterback, you should see the passing game play off the run, and vice versa with a lot more play-action fakes and draws. Additionally, I fully expect Yates to use more of the field as he spreads the ball out to different targets throughout a game.

Barnes: Shoop took some heat toward the end of last season due to his conservative play calling. But his options were limited – with no legitimate running threat, UNC had to max-protect for Yates in the pocket so that the red-shirt freshman didn't lose a valuable limb or two. When you have to use an extra man to block, that really limits your options in opening up the playbook. With Little entrenched at running back heading into fall camp, Shoop will be able to return to a more balanced attack, which should provide for some more fireworks like fans witnessed in the first half of the 2007 season.

(Check back tomorrow for 'Five Questions for Fall Camp: Defense')


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