Preseason Roundtable, Part I

Inside Carolina counts down to the start of training camp on Friday by analyzing the key preseason topics ...

Roundtable participants: Don Callahan, Mark Paschal, Greg Barnes and Buck Sanders. Paschal, who was a standout linebacker for the Tar Heels last year, is joining the IC staff this season and will provide weekly analysis on the site as well as co-hosting the Inside Carolina Call-In postgame show. Stay tuned for more details.)

Obviously, the offensive question that has received the most offseason chatter surrounds the wide receiver corps. I remember watching Miami's (mostly) young wide receiver corps last year and the struggles they had with drops. How will you be able to tell during fall camp whether UNC's young receiver corps will be ready for prime time this season?

Don: We won't be able to tell during fall camp. With the exception of the incoming freshmen, all of the receivers have been through plenty of practice reps. The problem is game reps. Furthermore, I'm not sure the Citadel game will tell us very much either. We will have to see the passing game as a whole against a legit Division I-A opponent to determine if it will struggle or be reliable.

Dwight Jones
Mark: The youth at receiver this year will be tested early and often in training camp. Coach Davis, Coach Shoop and Coach Williams will test this group both mentally and physically harder than any other. The first tell tale sign that this group is improving and ready for prime time will be the responses from T.J. Yates and the defensive backs. The corners and safeties have gone up against Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster for the past few years so their praise or concern will let us know if these young bucks are ready for Saturdays.

Greg: Butch Davis told reporters at the Triangle Pigskin Preview that a "disproportionate" amount of time would be spent on the passing game during training camp. Given that the third-year head coach is a big believer in not labeling a player until he performs under the bright lights on game day, I don't think that we will know if the young receivers are ready for prime time until Sept. 5. Having said that, word of mouth spreads quickly – Josh Adams was praised by his teammates in the spring without even being prodded.

Buck: While there is something to be said for seeing what the receivers do when the games are for real, I think wide receiver is one of the few, if not the only, position where it's possible to tell how well young players are progressing. It didn't take all of one practice to tell that Nicks would be special. You can talk about a receiver's speed, route-running ability, size, hops, whatever – none of it matters unless they have great hands. That's what Nicks had even as a true freshman, and that's something you can see in practice as well as games.

With the inexperience at wide receiver, there has been a lot of talk about the UNC offense moving to a more balanced passing game, utilizing the backs and tight ends more, checking down in the passing game. It seems a logical move, but the UNC style of attack definitely depends to some extent on the deep threat. What will the passing game really look like coming out of fall practice?

Greg: The offense is not going to change. What will happen – at least until Davis gets his full complement of players into the program – is that offensive coordinator John Shoop will utilize the best players on offense. If Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate are on your team, you throw them the football. Heading into fall practice, the obvious strength of this offense will be tight end Zack Pianalto and the depth at running back. So it's only natural for the ground game and short passing attack to be the initial focal point. But while Shoop may lean on his known qualities in early September, this team must have vertical threats to keep defenses honest.

Zack Pianalto
Mark: I definitely see a switch to more to a balanced passing attack, at least early on. Until Yates and the coaching staff feel completely comfortable with the receiving corps, I wouldn't expect to see as many ‘home runs' as we did last season. However, I do believe that once the receivers have proved they will go get the deep ball, beat a corner or catch one over the middle, we will see both Yates and the staff get more comfortable and try to stretch the defense out. That being said, expect to see a more conservative offense until someone proves they are a big time receiver in either practice or a game.

Don: It will be very similar to the spring game where T.J. Yates went underneath to the tight ends and ‘backs, a lot. I don't believe John Shoop intended UNC's offense to depend on the deep threat. I think that it just evolved into that because of the receiving group. Now, Yates' most reliable target is tight end Zack Pianalto, which should help balance the passing game.

Buck: Some good points here, but there are two reasons I think we'll see a more balanced attack in 2009; 1) The personnel argument that you do what your team does best, i.e., with Nicks and Foster, the deep ball is something you want in your offense, and 2) A maturing T.J. Yates. Yates had to learn, I believe, that sometimes it's better to take what you can get, rather than go for it all. We saw this in 2008 after he returned, particularly in the Duke game. The deep ball is definitely a part of Shoop's philosophy, and something he's going to try to do every year, but being able to make the checkdown throw when the deep ball isn't there is something a quarterback learns as he matures.

Tomorrow: Preseason Roundtable, Part II

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