Flanker in Flux

CHAPEL HILL, N.C – With T.J. Thorpe sidelined indefinitely, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins are the next men up in showcasing their versatility at UNC’s flanker position.

Entering training camp, the wide receiver pecking order had seemingly been established. Howard would backup Quinshad Davis at split end, while Hollins would do the same with Thorpe at flanker. The injury to Thorpe, however, has shaken up the position group.

Davis discussed the impact of Thorpe’s absence on Monday, as well as the offense’s attempt to remedy the situation.

“It affects us a little bit because he was a big part of the offense, he’s explosive and makes a lot of plays,” Davis said. “But they switched Bug over and put him over at the [left side] because he can make plays also. We’re just going to have to step it up a little bit more.”

Howard echoed Davis’s thoughts.

“Losing T.J. was a biggie,” Howard said. “But we all need to step in and pick it up.”

When asked about having to move his wide outs around in order to fill Thorpe’s void, UNC head coach Larry Fedora stressed that all of his receivers need to have the flexibility and understanding to play multiple receiver positions.

“One is on the right side and one is on the left side and that’s where they stay,” Fedora said. “We have been able to use either guy in those spots. We teach concepts, not positions. So a receiver has to know if he’s on the outside or the inside, doesn’t matter which side he is, he’s got to know what to do.”

Both players affirmed their head coach’s approach, noting an emphasis to every concept in the play book and every position on the field.

The other fascinating aspect of the competition that has developed between Hollins and Howard is that they each took different paths that prepared them for an opportunity to start.

As a freshman, Howard saw the field in all 13 games, catching his first career touchdown in just his second collegiate game (a 40-20 victory over Middle Tennessee State). For the year, the Georgia native finished with 22 catches for 278 yards and four touchdowns.

With that type of consistent exposure, Howard believes that he’s ready for an expanded role in the offense.

“Having experience from last year, I think can step in right as a starter,” Howard said.

Hollins brings a different attitude to the table. Hollins was a walk-on in 2012, but made such an impression on special teams that he was eventually named a captain as a freshman.

Where Howard brings in-game receiving experience, Hollins focuses on accountability. When asked how he’s translated to his special teams mentality to the offensive side of the ball, he focused on effort.

“[It’s] the no excuses aspect,” Hollins said. “Special teams you always go 100 percent. Anytime a guy is complaining I ask him if they want to sit on the sidelines like I was last year, or be hurt like T.J.”

Both players consider themselves dynamic playmakers.

“I’m the one that stretches the field and gets behind defensive backs,” Howard said.

Hollins expressed similar confidence, saying, “If I’m running, I should be the fastest… I want to be able to make plays and score touchdowns.”

With Thorpe’s return date from injury unknown, Hollins and Howard will have ample opportunity to showcase what they can do.


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