Tommy Ashley, radio show co-host
Greg Barnes, beat writer
Mark Paschal, analyst (former Tar Heel LB)
Buck Sanders, columnist
Last year you could almost see the air go out of the ball when Zack Pianalto was injured. Is UNC's passing game going to be equally dependent on his health again this year?
Buck Sanders: No doubt that Pianalto was the guy T.J. Yates felt he could count on the most last season, and you can bet he'll still look for Pianalto in critical situations again this year. Erik Highsmith has reportedly gained 25 pounds and is likely to be a bigger part of the offense in terms of being a reliable possession receiver, but it would hurt the offense and Yates's confidence if he lost Pianalto again for any appreciable stretch of time. The Tar Heels need a big year from their senior tight end.
Tommy Ashley: As long as T.J. Yates is the QB, I think Pianalto will lead the team in receptions. The chemistry between those two guys is as strong as it gets and there's nothing wrong with having an almost guaranteed security blanket out there on every passing down. Pianalto does what every team requires in order to have a chance in the passing game. He gets open and he makes the tough catch in traffic. If his game can rub off on the rest of the guys, then you won't see such a huge drop off if he goes down. Still, regardless of the QB, Pianalto's health is huge for this offense. The kid does everything right so he deserves a full season to show his talents for the next level.
Mark Paschal: Zack is an outstanding football player. Consistent, hard working, and smart; he makes the offense a complete unit. His experience, ball catching ability and blocking cannot be overlooked and our offense will lean on him throughout the year. That being said, our wideouts and slots have a year plus spring ball under their belts and should be more polished coming into 2010.
Greg Barnes: Pianalto is undoubtedly a significant piece to the offensive puzzle, but Greg Little came on strong toward the end of the season to provide Yates with a legitimate second option. Highsmith and Jhay Boyd spent most of their offseason in the film room, which will help in gaining their quarterback's trust while also avoiding the freshman mistakes that plagued them in '09.
There are several candidates at wide receiver that Tar Heel fans have been waiting to break out for at least a year, including Dwight Jones, Josh Adams, and Todd Harrelson. Which of these players do you think will break out in 2010?
Tommy Ashley: I think the order listed (above) is how I'd rank them as far as who should and who must break out. Jones has almost entered the mythical realm on the message boards as far as his potential for greatness. Adams, too; committing on signing day of his junior year then getting to Carolina early, he certainly had the hype of someone that would make an impact in a hurry. He never could get or stay healthy, and with young guys being hurt is as much mental as it is physical. Harrelson doesn't get the outside hype as the other two, but his teammates know he can be the real deal.
Buck Sanders: It may get a little crowded at wide receiver if Boyd steps up and has the kind of year he's capable of having, but Jones would be my candidate to make a surge this year. Lots of people forget he had arthroscopic surgery to deal with pain in his right knee last September. Even if it was just a "clean up," it was a lot to expect for him to come back and have a big season last year. I think he's got the best shot because he is a serious downfield threat and UNC could use another receiver who can stretch the field.
Mark Paschal: To be honest, I don't have an educated opinion on which one will break out in 2010, but one of them has to step up and be a viable option for Carolina. We need one of them to become a consistent contributor at wide out for this team to be as successful as hoped.
Greg Barnes: I had Dwight Jones pegged for a breakout season in '09 before he had surgery the day before the season opener against the Citadel. One UNC defensive back told IC last August that Jones was "by far the best receiver on the team." The Burlington, N.C. native has the perfect blend of size and speed, but if he's ever going to live up to his high school hype, he needs to get things rolling because he's beginning to run out of time.
Health issues aside, if any one of these guys can step up and give the Heels a fourth option behind Little, Boyd and Highsmith, the offense can meet its challenges much more effectively.