Five Questions for Spring: Offense

With Spring Practice beginning Monday, Inside Carolina's Greg Barnes, Don Callahan, and Buck Sanders look at the most pressing issues for the 2010 team. Today, the focus is on the offensive side of the ball.

1. The number one question this spring in the minds of fans is whether Bryn Renner can challenge T.J. Yates for the starter's job at quarterback. Is there any realistic chance that Yates loses his job during the spring to Renner?

Greg: None whatsoever. And even if Renner outplays Yates during spring ball, I seriously doubt the coaching staff would make any kind of formal announcement to the team or media. What purpose would that serve other than to demoralize Yates over the summer months? Despite the intense spotlight directed at the quarterback position this spring, I don't think we'll have any concrete answer until the second or third week of training camp in August.

Don: I believe Yates comes out of the spring as the starter. He always looks good in the spring and in the preseason. His problems occur in games – when he plays timid and makes game-effecting mistakes (typically, a poor throw or decision that results in a turnover). Thus, if he loses his job, it will be during the season. Working against Renner is his baseball season and John Shoop's familiarity with Yates.

Buck: Make it unanimous – so long as Yates remains healthy, he will be the nominal starter on offense coming out of spring ball. Call it a "competition" if you like, but this staff is not going to award the starting quarterback job to a red-shirt freshman over a senior during spring practice.

2. With Alan Pelc and Carl Gaskins out for the spring, what are the things to watch for on the offensive line?

Greg: The two primary things that I'll be paying close attention to will be Jonathan Cooper's position and the play of the true freshmen tackles. Pelc started at center in the bowl game in an attempt to offset Pittsburgh's size up front, so the question is whether or not his performance warrants a permanent move. There has been speculation in the past that Cooper would eventually move to center once Lowell Dyer graduated. If that were to happen, this spring would be the ideal time to make that adjustment. As for the freshmen, are James Hurst and T.J. Leifheit ready to play at the collegiate level?

Don: The absence of Pelc and Gaskins will provide true freshmen James Hurst and T.J. Leifheit with even more reps and therefore provide an even greater opportunity for both to earn playing time for this fall.

Buck: I think there are several stories to watch on the OL this spring. We are being told there is real competition at right tackle between Mike Ingersoll and Brennan Williams. The guy playing the most snaps at guard is likely in line to be the top reserve there once Pelc returns. Is Cooper making a smooth transition to center? And as Greg and Don mentioned, it will be interesting to see and hear reports about the two freshmen tackles.

3. Another huge question mark on offense concerns the wide receivers. Are there any receivers that you except to take a step forward this spring?

Greg: Dwight Jones continues to be an enigma. He has quietly developed the reputation of a poor practice player, yet LeCount Fantroy told IC in August that the Burlington, N.C. native was "by far the best receiver on the team." If Jones' production is going to ever match his talent, he needs to start now. Greg Little, Jhay Boyd and Erik Highsmith established themselves as legitimate ACC-caliber receivers in '09, so the focus this spring will be if Joshua Adams and Todd Harrelson can crack into the lineup.

Don: If guys like Dwight Jones and Todd Harrelson don't step up this season, they risk being passed by the sophomore and freshman class. Both really need to step forward this spring and earn snaps alongside Greg Little if they ever want to ever contribute on the field at UNC.

Buck: Certainly much was expected of Dwight Jones when he finally made it into UNC. He did begin last season coming off an injury, and simply hasn't made his way onto the field often. With the struggles the offense was having in the passing game last year, it simply wasn't the time to shuffle a lot of faces in and out of the lineup. I agree with Greg and Don that this is a big spring for Jones, Adams, and Harrelson.

4. With Ryan Houston getting a lot more reps last year, both before and certainly after Shaun Draughn was injured, do you expect a larger role for Houston this year, or will the carries return to where they were before Draughn's injury?

Greg: One of the little known facts of the '09 season is that Draughn's numbers improved once the tattered offensive line started to get healthy midway through the season. In back-to-back ESPN Thursday night games against Florida State and Virginia Tech, Draughn rushed for 203 yards on 35 carries, good for a 5.8 yards-per-carry average. The red-shirt senior has learned the position and possesses some of the breakaway speed that Butch Davis covets at the running back position. I do think their numbers will be closer together than what they were to start last fall, but Draughn will be continue to be 1A with Houston serving as 1B in the backfield. Don't be surprised, though, if Houston takes the reins against teams with big defensive fronts.

Don: Under Shoop, UNC has utilized a "thunder and lightening" approach to its running game. After Draughn was lost for the season, UNC attempted to pair someone with Houston – first Anthony Elzy and then eventually Johnny White, who was moved from wide receiver. I believe Houston will receive some more carries than he did before Draughn's injury and be more than just a short yardage guy.

Buck: I think the consensus opinion is that Houston will get more carries as a result of his performance while Draughn was out. Even before Draughn was injured, however, Houston was beginning to be called in for an entire series of downs, rather than just on third-and-short or in goal line situations. In some of those situations, he was more productive than Draughn had been in the same game.

5. What is the biggest question the offense has to answer this spring?

Greg: Offensive line depth. As much heat as Yates took in '09, he was under constant pressure during the first half of the season and I have to believe that seriously affected his confidence down the stretch. How does this team replace Kyle Jolly at left tackle? Can we possibly know that answer with Carl Gaskins out this spring? If you're not solid in the trenches, everything else is just details.

Don: Does UNC have a reliable passing game? Last season, the Tar Heels really missed Hakeem Nicks, Brooks Foster, and Brandon Tate. This season, receivers need to emerge and Yates needs to get on the same page with them.

Buck: Greg and Don sum it up well. Curing the issues that plagued the offense last year -- offensive line depth, Yates' confidence at quarterback, and whether the wide receivers will step it up as a group -- are all questions for this spring, and for this fall.

Tomorrow: The Defense …

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