Posted: 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013
By Brian Barbour
For all the success Bryn Renner enjoyed racking up almost 3400 yards passing last season, the Tar Heel receivers really didn't get a great deal of attention. One reason is Giovanni Bernard also caught passes out of the backfield and ended up with the fourth most receiving yards on the team. Another factor is the nature of Larry Fedora's offense. Renner spread the ball around making use of every available target. At least eight different Tar Heels had ten or more receptions in 2012. Anyone every heard of Mark McNeill? Probably not be he had ten catches in eight games played. The very essence of an offense that sees quick snaps is also hitting different receivers. In addition, it is not like UNC had true standout receivers outside of freshman Quinshad Davis.
Davis has a chance to follow Hakeem Nicks and Dwight Jones as the next great Tar Heel wide receiver. Consider his numbers from last season. Davis set freshman records for receptions in a season(61), receptions in a game(16 vs UVa), yards receiving in a game(178 vs UVa) and yards receiving in a season with 776. Stop and think about those numbers for a second. Davis ended up with better freshman stats than Hakeem Nicks who everyone knew from his first day in Chapel Hill was an NFL prospect. UNC clearly has a star receiver in Davis if he builds on his freshman season.
The question is who else can be productive besides Davis? Sean Tapley is slated to start at one of the other WR positions. Tapley had 26 catches for 361 yards last season. T.J. Thorpe is returning from injury and hoping to contribute though his value might rest more with special teams. The preseason depth chart listed three players at the third WR spot that had a total to two receptions in 2012 and they both belonged to Damien Washington. The nature of the offense means multiple targets which includes Romar Morris, A.J. Blue, etc coming out of the backfield. All eyes will still be on Davis and he should get his most of the time. The need for someone else to take some of the defensive pressure off him is still very real.
Of course one of the other options will be tight end Eric Ebron. The sophomore is your prototypical tight end as defined by current NFL standards. He is big, fast and already has his head coach publicly stating an expectation of 12 touchdown receptions. Much of the reason for that statement lies with Ebron's paltry four touchdowns in 2012 despite having 625 yards receiving. To put that number into perspective, Tapley had five touchdown catches on 14 fewer receptions overall. Romar Morris ended up with two and he only caught 12 passes all season. The nature of the spread offense should afford Ebron plenty of chances to be productive since there are times he will end up matched up against a slower defensive player. His size allows him to be a perfect target for Renner in red zone situations. Twelve touchdowns is a lofty goal, especially since no one had more than five scoring catches in 2012. Maybe Ebron doesn't make it to twelve but he has to be more productive than just the four he had last season.
Of course Ebron isn't the only tight end who will get some looks. Jack Tabb will join Ebron in some offensive sets and will get his fair share of looks as warranted. Tabb caught twelve passes last season for 144 yards. As noted above, the spread offense creates multiple targets and with a quarterback like Renner, there is no reason to think Tabb won't also be a factor.
Obviously UNC will strive to find a balance between running and passing the football. That is Fedora's state preference and with the personnel surrounding Renner there is potential for this offense to really be explosive at times.