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July 15, 2009

Receivers combine talent, youth

Some Carolina fans may weary of hearing the word young in relation to the Tar Heels' football team, but that remains the best description for a group of receivers who will more than likely rely on one junior, a sophomore who has never really played and two freshmen.

"Certainly, we are a long way from the assumption that we have replaced the three guys at the wide receiver," Coach Butch Davis said. "And we probably won't. It's conceivable that in the first game of the season we will not need to be where we need to be.

"It's going to be a work in progress throughout the season. All these guys have the athletic ability and talent to eventually do it. There is no way for them to get the experience necessary until they just go out and have to play."

While it's true there will be plenty of mistakes, early in the season especially, the flip side is all four of the players expected to contribute were among the most highly recruited athletes in the country at their positions.

Dwight Jones as a five-star prospect his senior year in Burlington and the top-rated player in the state. Greg Little, who is from Durham, was not far off, and he initially committed to Notre Dame before signing with UNC.

Joshua Adams of Massachusetts and Connecticut turned down Stanford, Nebraska and Iowa, while Jheranie Boyd of Gastonia could have said yes to either of the teams that played for the national championship last year: Florida or Oklahoma.

So talent is not the issue. Neither is the arm strength of the quarterback. T.J. Yates can make all the throws, especially hitting these fast receivers on deep routes. Yates has done this since the first game he started at UNC two years ago.

What he will have in this group, aside from speed and strength, is great height and leaping ability. Jones is 6 feet 5, Adams 6-4, Little 6-3 and Boyd is 6-2, but Boyd can probably jump as high as any of the others, and they can all get in the air in a hurry.

"All three of those guys are big targets," Davis said of Little, Davis and Adams, the three who played in spring practice. "They've physical. They're strong enough to get off of jams. But they have a long ways to go. We're going to have to press this receiving corps to make sure they can come in there and make those critical catches that are going to keep drives alive or score touchdowns.

"We kind of got spoiled the last two years with the three kids we played with."

Boyd fits well with all his potential, and Todd Harrelson appears to have a chance to contribute, too.

In addition, there are H-back/tight ends Zack Pianalto and Christian Wilson. Both should be much better players this year. Wilson has a season of playing at this level now, and Pianalto should be healthy again and he is far bigger than when he arrived on campus.

There will be mistakes from the young wide receivers. They will run the wrong routes, make the wrong turns, drop some passes, fail to get off the line quick enough, run the wrong play, all the things that can make life tough on any quarterback.

But these kids should also make a great deal of improvement each week, and it's just as likely they will make some spectacular plays to go along with their errors.

Probably the two most important things they can do is catch the ball and knock it down when they can't get to it but a defender may.

Little has proven he can be extraordinarily hard to tackle when he catches the ball. He has an opportunity not just to play well but to lead these kids quickly into prominence. The sooner it happens, the more explosive Carolina's offense will be.


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