Wide Receiver Resurgence

Brewer, Howard

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina will look to mesh its young talent at wide receiver with standout Quinshad Davis and other veteran options in hopes of providing a lethal yet efficient offensive product this fall.

The UNC passing attack is based around the central idea of making explosive plays, according to wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer.

"I think it's about consistency and being able to be an explosive player," Brewer said after practice on Wednesday. "This offense requires that in a one-back system the receivers run, block and catch so you have to be a complete player in order to do that. This offense can be pretty good when you do."

The Tar Heel receivers are a young unit as a whole, despite the fact that they ranked 28th in the nation in passing yards (277.4 ypg) and 31st in passing efficiency in 2013. One key contributor was the team's leader in receptions and receiving yards in NFL-bound tight end Eric Ebron.

This season the expectations of being the go-to guy will fall on Davis, a junior who broke onto the scene setting freshman receiving records in 2012. The Gaffney, S.C. product followed that up with 10 touchdowns and 724 receiving yards last fall.

"Quinshad came in early and really contributed and now he's found his niche and has become a leader on the team by example," Brewer said. "When he needs to speak up, he's like E.F. Hutton, when he has something to say he says it. Other than that, he doesn't say a whole lot. Kids like him; he's well liked on the team because he handles his business."

Davis will be relied on heavily moving forward, but the other lanky receiver on the outside may be a major factor after showing glimpses of explosiveness in his freshman year in Chapel Hill. Bug Howard bagged 22 catches for 278 yards and four scores on the season in 2013.

"Me and Quinshad, we stretch the field by getting downfield and giving the quarterbacks bigger targets," Howard said. "I'm not saying anything about the little guys because they can go get it too. It's about putting the ball in the air and letting us go get it and do what we do."

The ability to snag balls like a natural basketball player soaring for a rebound is something Howard has been able to do from day one in Chapel Hill. One attribute that didn't quite translate was his blocking ability. Howard has worked on his blocking throughout the offseason and during the spring after realizing this was a facet of his game that wasn't quite up to par during his freshman season.

"Bug's a young man that's been able to come in from Wilcox County, a small school in Georgia that's got a great tradition in sports period, so he knows how to compete and he knows what it is to play at a level where it means something," Brewer said. "He's been able to improve, especially his blocking, but he's always had great ball skills so he's trying to become a good route runner and really take pride in that. He really wants to get on the field and make a contribution."

Ryan Switzer made a name for himself as a freshman with his ability to constantly provide big plays both on special teams and as the A-back for the Tar Heels in the passing game. Switzer struggled similarly with his blocking as a rookie.

"He's coming off an after season correction and a little bit of surgery and he's doing great," Brewer said. "He's out at practice now and working through that. We're holding him back for our reasons and not medically. He's getting back into that but (blocking) is one of the things he wants to improve on and get better at. He's really worked hard when he has been able to do it."

The improvement of the young talent meshed with the veteran presence should only help boost the receiving group as a whole. Kendrick Singleton provides the essential leadership necessary for the Tar Heel wide outs and T.J. Thorpe offers another option for explosiveness on both special teams and in the passing game, according to Brewer.

"We've got a great group," Brewer said. "We're three deep – and maybe all three aren't All-Americans – but all three at each position want to work hard and make each other better and want to win a championship here."

Howard echoed Brewer's assessment, and added a note about the potential Thorpe may provide moving forward after getting healthy.

"I think it's hard to prepare for us because we're big on the outside and we're quick on the inside," Howard said. "We've got quick physical guys in T.J. Thorpe. He's quick, fast and physical. He's one of the biggest receivers we've got so it's really hard to prepare for us."

 

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