Shoop, Part IV: Learning Curve

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- One of the concerns for North Carolina in 2010 will be the wide receivers. Outside of Greg Little, who had 62 catches for 724 yards, the young group of wideouts had its struggles this past season.

There was a definite learning curve for the Tar Heels' young group of receivers. Eric Highsmith led the underclassmen, catching 37 passes for 425 yards, second on the team. Jheranie Boyd had 12 catches for 214 yards, fifth on the team, although four of his catches were for touchdowns. Both Highsmith and Boyd were true freshmen. The rest of the wide receiver corps combined for only 17 catches.

One of the issues faced by a group of young receivers is gaining the trust of the quarterback. John Shoop talks a lot about "fifty-fifty" balls. It isn't a difficult concept to grasp.

"People aren't wide open in the ACC," said UNC's offensive coordinator. "There is pretty good coverage and there are tight windows and you've got to be able to throw the ball into that window and anticipate things, and you've got to have wideouts that win when it is tight coverage in a fifty-fifty ball.

"When we throw a ball and it is one-on-one with a defensive back, we say there is no such thing as a fifty-fifty ball," Shoop continued. "When you are running one-on-one with a corner, it is not fifty-fifty, it is our wide receiver comes down with it, or the ball is left on the ground -- period, the end. Some of the times early in the season, we threw those fifty-fifty balls and the defensive back came up with it."

The more comfortable a quarterback becomes that a receiver is going to win those battles, the more comfortable he is when making that throw. Shoop believed that process progressed in 2009 and will continue through next fall.

"As you develop that rapport, then you are able to throw the ball into some tighter windows that maybe earlier in the season you shouldn't have," Shoop said. "I think (Yates) is going to develop that rapport with guys like Jhay Boyd, and Eric Highsmith, and Josh Adams, and I think Todd Harrelson had a strong practice -- he practiced well -- the second half of the season.

"At the end of the season -- whether it was against Pitt in the bowl game or against N.C. State on a halfback pass -- a fifty-fifty ball to Greg Little was ours. A fifty-fifty ball to Zack Pianalto, Zack was coming down with it. I think we are developing that feel, that rapport, with Jhay Boyd – he got a fifty-fifty ball against Virginia Tech for a touchdown."

How do the wideouts improve at winning those fifty-fifty battles?

"I think you've got to keep pushing it, don't go into a shell, keep pushing it, and these guys have got to meet a standard, we don't have to lower the standard, these guys have got to rise to the standard. I think we started rising to the standard the second half of the season."

Shoop finished on a promising note when discussing the passing game:

"I am not lowering the bar for these guys, they've got to catch up, they've got to meet that standard. I think our quarterbacks are, I think our wideouts are, I think our tight ends are; we're going to meet that standard. We're going to be an efficient pass team, I promise you that."

Check back tomorrow for Part V from Inside Carolina's one-on-one interview with John Shoop …

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders sat down with UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop earlier this month for a one-on-one interview. This is Part III of a five-part series running all this week from that interview session.
Part I: No Excuses
Part II: Bouncing Back
Part III: Fitting the Mold
Part IV: Learning Curve
Part V: Friday

For even more insider analysis, stay tuned for the comprehensive "Offseason Report" in the March Issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine, due out next month, featuring interviews with offensive coordinator John Shoop and defensive coordinator Everett Withers.

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