First comes first. Bryn Renner will have a monster season next year and the wide receiving core of UNC will be a major beneficiary. Without All-American running back, Giovani Bernard behind Renner to take snaps or receive a dump off on a third down, the Tar Heels’ receivers must make sure they bring their A game every week. How does the receiving core stack up this upcoming football season?
Last year, Chapel Hill finished an impressive 26th in the nation with 291.8 yards through the air. Head coach Larry Fedora implemented his spread offense and Bryn Renner has taken to it with flying colors. However, there is a bit of a hiccup this season. That same UNC squad that averaged 291.8 yards through the air also averaged 193.8 yards on the ground to give them 33rd in the nation. It was a relatively balanced offensive attack.
Now that the main workhorse, Gio Bernard is gone, UNC might have more trouble establishing a ground game—and thus, a passing game. Without the threat of the run, teams will focus more on shutting down Renner and his receivers. UNC will need to counter-act this by keeping the defense guessing through play calling and different looking packages.
The Tar Heels will be looking for Quinshad Davis to lead his fellow receiving core this next year. He finished last season with 61 receptions, 776 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Davis is a rising junior with major upside potential for his 6’4’’, 205 pound frame. Add another off-season of route-running, film-watching, and weight lifting to Quinshad, and UNC fans should be happy with the product. You better believe Coach Fedora will have his hand in the stirring pot with Davis, working with him day in and day out.
Overall for Davis, he must continue to pick it up. An offense that is 26th in the land in passing, whose leading receiver only has five touchdowns all season? Who only has one more touchdown than the tight end? That’s just not going to get it done. Everyone else must step up as well.
Eric Ebron was a shining beacon of hope last season. The monster-sized 6’4, 245 pound tight-end was a force to be reckoned with in the end zone and was Mr. Reliable for quarterback Bryn Renner. Ebron had at least two receptions in every game he played last season and finished the 2012 season with 40 receptions, 625 yards, and 4 touchdowns. This was a big jump from his 10 receptions and 1 touchdown from the previous year. You know what that tells me? Larry Fedora trusts him to make the catch when UNC needs it. He’ll continue to make big strides this next season as well.
UNC will miss WR Erik Highsmith and his 54 receptions, 587 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Running back Giovani Bernard was an integral piece to the Tar Heels’ passing game last season. UNC will have to find a way to fill his 47 receptions, 490 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Most of all, it was his yards-after-catch that the Tar Heels will have to find a way to replace.
Sean Tapley rounds out the top five receivers from last season for UNC. Tapley is a rising senior and will look to add some leadership to the receiving core. He yanked in 26 receptions for 361 yards and 5 touchdowns last year.
Overall, UNC and quarterback Bryn Renner will need to keep the defense honest by establishing a run game and changing up their play calling. Two of their top five receivers from last season are no longer at UNC, including their All-American running back. The drop in running game will need to be accounted for by Renner and his receivers in order for UNC to be successful. It can definitely be done, but it will take creativity by the coaching staff and everyone involved.