2008 UNC Season Previews: Running Back

Probable Starter: Greg Little

Key Reserves: Ryan Houston, Devon Ramsay, Jamal Womble, Shaun Draughn, Anthony Elzy, Bobby Rome, Rameses the Ram, Ramses the Dude in the Costume, Usain Bolt, Anrdei Arshavin, Bear Grylls, Chancellor Holden Thorp, Chinese Badminton sensation Lin Dan, Lego Steve Nash, Ben Mauk (6th Year of Eligibility), Ronnie McGill (8th year of eligibility)

Overview: Up until the post-Mack era, the Tar Heels were synonymous with a powerful rushing offense. Carolina tailbacks rushed for 1,000 yards 24 times between 1969 and 1997, and UNC had at least one 1,000 yard rusher for 12 consecutive seasons (1973-84).

In the Torbush/Bunting era, however, the best rushing season came from Chad Scott in 2004: 796 yards and 8 TDs. 2007 was near rock bottom: 107th in the nation at 99.5 pards per game, no one broke the 400 yard plateau, and no player established himself as the feature back. If Carolina has any hope of living up to the preseason hype, they’ll need far more support from the backfield.

Fortunately, Greg Little may change that. Little moved from wide receiver to tailback well into the season, and he was placed into the starting lineup against Georgia Tech and Duke. In those two games he rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries, including 154 against the Blue Devils. With his performance at the end of 2007 and in camp, Little is going to start at tailback for the beginning of 2008. He has even said that his goal is to rush for 1,000 yards this season. While he does necessarily need to move mountains, he should certainly help make the offense more balanced.

Little’s place is fairly secure, but every other carry is up for grabs. Anthony Elzy, who rushed for 351 yards, is being moved to a fullback/H-back role. Both Johnny White and Richie Rich are switching to defensive backs. That leaves Ryan Houston as the incumbent, having rushed for 152 yards on 44 carries in his freshman year. He is much more fit this season than he was in 2007, which almost certainly means better production in 2008.

Then we reach into the unknown, the freshmen. Devon Ramsay is a 6-2, 240 pound redshirt freshman from Lawrenceville, NJ, who ran track in high school. So we can surmise that the guy has both size and speed, but that’s about all we know. Jamal Womble is a highly touted true freshman from Arizona who stands at 5-11 and 215 pounds, runs a 4.5 40, and rushed for 1,787 yards, 20 TDs, and over 10 yards per carry in his senior year, all school records in Sierra Vista. Again, we know his amazing potential, but not much else.

The most interesting story in this RB battle has been the emergence of Shaun Druaghn, whom I already like if only for the fact that his name rhymes. He was recruited as a safety, but also played QB and tailback at Tarboro High. After spring practice he asked coach Davis for the opportunity to play at running back in fall camp. He was given a significant share of practice carries while Houston has been banged up and Womble has learned the offense, and he has done nothing but impress. By August 30th, Draughn could be the 2nd tailback on the UNC depth chart.

Outlook: Little will definitely be a stable influence at the running back position, but depth is still an issue. Up to five tailback could have an impact this season, and we still have little idea who emerge as the #2 option. The running back position is Carolina’s biggest question mark heading into the season, and the answer will in all likelihood determine for far the Tar Heels can go in 2008.

(Draughn Photo: Tar Heel Blue.)

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Carolina Football FACT of the Day: 8/18

The weird and useless facts about Carolina Football.

FACT: kick returners aside, special teams is a somewhat lonely existence. This fact is magnified on “Meet the Team” day, when everyone wants the autograph of the quarterbacks, the running backs, and the defensive ends. Meanwhile the punters and deep snappers are pretty much left alone. On the day scheduled solely for the adoring public, no less. For the sake of their own sanity, would someone please, please ask Terrence Brown and Mark House for an autograph?

Fans are excited about the coming season. UNC’s deep snappers…not so much.

(Photo: IC.)

2008 UNC Season Previews: Wide Receivers

Probable Starters: Hakeem Nicks (#88), Brandon Tate (#87)

Key Reserves: Brooks Foster (#1), Kenton Thornton (#3), Rashad Mason (#85), Dwight Jones (#83), and apparently 20% of the state of North Carolina.

Overview: Wide receiver is the deepest and most talented part of UNC’s offense. At the very least, Carolina has three fantastic, experienced receivers and three talented, if unproven, players behind them in the depth chart.

We start with junior Hakeem Nicks. In the entire, 115+ year history of UNC football, no one has amassed 1,000 yards receiving in one season. Hakeem Nicks has come closest, setting a school record with 74 receptions and 958 yards to go with five touchdowns. This year he’s a preseason first team All-ACC selection and is expected to break the 1,000 yard barrier with relative ease.

Brandon Tate is right behind him in the depth chart. While he might leave Chapel Hill as the greatest return man in ACC history, he hasn’t been renowned for his receiving. Last year Tate made a solid impression as the #3 receiver, scoring as many touchdowns as Nicks with only one-third of the receptions (25). A touchdown for every 5 catches is a pretty amazing number, and it’s enough for coach Davis to put him alongside Nicks in the starting lineup.

Brooks Foster may be listed third on the depth chart, but the senior has had 67 receptions for 903 yards in the last two seasons. Expect him to get a lot of touches while defenses worry about Nicks and Tate.

The greatest attribute that UNC’s top three receivers have is the ability to get yards after the catch. In 2007 the majority of the their catches would comes from quick throws form T.J. Yates within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. With Nicks in particular, Yates delivered a bullet from a one step drop against a corner who gave just a little too much space, and Nicks would fight for 8-12 yards and a first down.

Among the three receivers behind Nicks, Tate and Foster in the depth chart, only Kenton Thornton has any experience (three receptions in nine games played). One distinct advantage that Thornton, Rashad Mason and Dwight Jones have over the starting lineup is height; all three are at least 6’4″ while Nicks and Tate are both 6’1″. They may be unproven talents, but they should be in a few extra plays this season; if Nicks declares for the draft after this season, these three receivers are the probable starting lineup of 2009. Expect them to enter the fold for jump balls, passes up the middle, and the red zone.

Outlook: T.J. Yates should be counting his lucky stars right now. With the combination of talent, experience, and depth, he might be throwing to the best receiving corps in the ACC this season.

Preseason BlogPoll: First Draft

Brian of MGoBlog has given me the privelege of being part of of this year’s college football BlogPoll. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the BlogPoll is an assembly of about 50-100 college football bloggers to assemble a top 25 that is more fair than the coach or media polls. In essence, it’s based on the concept that people who watch a s—load of games are more qualified than people who truly watch only one or two games each week. The preseason BlogPoll is due Monday, so I am now publishing the first draft of my Top 25. Why? To get feedback from you, the reader.

Rank Team Delta
1 Georgia 25
2 Ohio State 24
3 Southern Cal 23
4 Oklahoma 22
5 Missouri 21
6 Florida 20
7 West Virginia 19
8 Auburn 18
9 Clemson 17
10 LSU 16
11 Brigham Young 15
12 Texas Tech 14
13 South Florida 13
14 Wisconsin 12
15 Kansas 11
16 Arizona State 10
17 Texas 9
18 Tennessee 8
19 Penn State 7
20 Wake Forest 6
21 Virginia Tech 5
22 Oregon 4
23 Fresno State 3
24 California 2
25 TCU 1

Also Considered: Alabama, Cincinnati, Illinois, North Carolina, Oregon State, Utah.

Who I Like: Georgia will obviously be affected by the loss of Trinton Sturdivant. Over the course of the season, though, every team loses one or two important players. So I’m not prepared to knock them off the #1 position just yet. BYU has by far the best chance of any mid-major to get a BCS berth, but Fresno State and TCU are consistently among the most competitive mids in the nation, and this season should be no different. Placing Wake Forest ahead of top ACC Coastal team Virginia Tech Indicates my belief that the Atlantic division is much stronger at the top than the Coastal this year. If Nate Longshore can stay healthy and Jahvid Best does what he’s expected to do, California could once again make some noise in the Pac-10.

Who I Dislike: Without Rashad Mendenhall on offense and the gretest freedom fighter of our generation on defense, I don’t know how well Illinois can play. Alabama certainly is talented enough, but John Parker WIlson’s targets are unproven. In retrospect, I should probably put Clemson one or two spots higher. As tempted as I am to be a homer and put North Carolina in the #25 slot, our entire season is a crapshoot. 11-1 and 5-7 and equally likely scenarios.

So I turn this poll to you. What’s right with this poll? What’s wrong with it? What parts of the poll are completely idiotic? Let me know in the comments.

2008 UNC Season Previews: Tight Ends and H-Backs

(Photo: Inside Carolina)

Probable Starters: Richard Quinn (#89), Zack Pianalto (#17)

Key Reserves: Ed Barham (#80), Bobby Rome (#4), B.J. Phillips (#81), Christian Wilson (#33)

Overview: Much has been made about the Tar heel receiving core, but the key to T.J. Yates’ development as a QB may be short range passes to reduce pressure. Both the tight end and the H-back should favor heavily into an effective short and medium-range passing game.

Pianalto (the talent from Springfield Arkansas not named Mitch Mustain) was the fourth leading catcher for the Heels in 2007, gaining 204 yards on 24 catches. Pessimistic Carolina fans may remember him because he made a key fumble in the fourth quarter of UNC’s 22-20 loss to Virginia. Still, Pianalto made a significant contribution to the offense in 2007, and is expected to do so this year.

As for Quinn…not so much. His biggest play last year was also a costly mistake, a wide open drop in the endzone against Georgia Tech that led to a turnover on downs and another two point defeat. His stats were far less impressive than Pianalto’s: four receptions, 27 yards. It’s worth noting that the tight end and H-back are rarely on the field at the same time in John Shoop’s offense. Still, it’s important for Quinn to make a bigger impact on offense.

Outlook: Pianalto is expected to have a breakout year, and Carolina certainly seems committed to incorporating him into plays whenever possible. However, given the depth of talent at wide receiver, it’s unclear how many touches he and Quinn are going to get.

God Is Clearly Miffed at the Prospect of Duke Winning Four Games

So he struck this week. Plan A through E of Duke’s running attack, Re’Quan Boyette, will have season ending knee surgery.

Boyette has been Duke’s leading rusher for the last two seasons, with 1,072 career yards. That may not seem like much, but I’m trying to figure out who had that many career yards for UNC in the post-Mack era and mayyyyyyyyyybe Jacque Lewis comes to mind.

I’m a fine connoisseur of Duke-related Schadenfreude, but this is just unfair. The Blue Devils are having a tough enough time as it stands trying to get its first ACC win since Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s last day on Earth.

2008 UNC Season Previews: Offensive Line

Probable Starters: Kyle Jolly (#72), Calvin Darily (#79), Aaron Stahl (#73), Byron Bishop (#76), Garrett Reynolds (#75)

Key Reserves: Mike Ingersoll, Kevin Bryant, Lowell Dyer, Morgan Randall, others

Overview: An offense lives and dies by the offensive line. There’s no getting around it; speedy receivers and powerful running backs can only help you so much if the guards get knocked back three yards behind the line of scrimmage.

How this offensive line will perform this year is a bit of an enigma, especially considering the extremely difficulty one can have quantifying any offensive line with stats. Four out of five starters from last year return in 2008, and everyone is a Junior or senior. It follows logic that the line should play like a veteran, cohesive unit. On the other hand, they didn’t play particularly well in 2007. Carolina had one of the worst rushing attacks in college football, and gave up 37 sacks to opposing defenses. Greg Little, Jamal Womble, and other running backs will definitely help improve those stats, but the line must make leaps and bounds for the offense to be effective.

Kyle Jolly and Garrett Reynolds are the returning tackles, with Calvin Darity returning at right guard. The only newcomer is senior Byron Bishop at left guard. Aaron Stahl is taking the responsibility of playing center after the departure of Scott Lenahan.His development at center will be key to the line’s success this season.

Outlook: This offensive line is now a more experienced unit. More importantly, they’re experienced together, so they’ll definitely improve over 2007. As for where they stand amongst other lines in the ACC…we will have no bleeping idea until September.