As part of its continuing coverage of football training camp, Inside Carolina will feature a position group, along with other important notes from the day’s practice. Today it’s the wide receivers.
Gunter Brewer has created a healthy balance of young and old, as deep as the day is long.
At Wednesday’s practice, UNC coach John Bunting was displeased over an inordinate number of dropped balls. Yet, it would seem the Tar Heels passing game would be the least of his worries. After all, Carolina returns all but one receiver from last year’s team, including season receptions (71) record-holder Jarwarski Pollock.
“I just want to improve on the things that I did last year, and I want to improve on me helping the younger guys,” Pollock said. “If I can help the younger guys, then the younger guys can help me out. We can all help each other, and we can open up the offense even more. We just won’t be going to one guy; we’ll have lot of weapons that we can go to.”
Junior Derrele Mitchell is looking to break out after a season in which he had 17 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’m just most excited about playing with my teammates and playing under this coaching staff and this receiving corps; it’s going to be a big season for us,” Mitchell said. “I just need to focus on the field. I’ve got some talent. This team – we got all our players and we’ve got the offense to do it. So all I have to focus on is just playing my game and go out there and make big plays.”
Sophomores’ Mike Mason, Jesse Holley and Adarius Bowman have already garnered considerable attention. Mason, the deep burner, has broached stardom. Holley, the quintessential possession receiver, has overachieved and is the most reliable when treading the end zone. While Bowman may become the most physically intimidating receiver UNC Football has ever known.
“My first year here with Kory Bailey and Chesley Borders coming on, I would say ‘yes, we had a good receiving corps,” Bunting said. “But when Kory Bailey left, part of our toughness left with him. He was a tough kid.
“Now we’re starting to get some of that back,” he said. “We have some tough receivers that can get open. Adarius Bowman, Jesse Holley; those kids can fly. What we have is more competition at that position. Rahaad Tindall might get some plays. This is the best the receiving has been since we’ve been here.”
Last year Mason, Bowman and Holley – as true freshmen – each played in all 12 games, combining for 662 yards receiving and seven touchdown catches. Mason added a kickoff return for a touchdown, as well.
Nearly all say the balance of upperclassmen that have put in their time, and the younger upstarts provides for a healthy competition.
“All of the [sophomores] we have now are like our younger brothers, and they look up to us,” Mitchell said. “We have them to push us; and when they push us, we work harder and everybody gets better at the same time.”
But the unit’s total cohesiveness is only now being proven to Bunting, as he explained following Thursday’s practice.
“The wide receivers have been the Prima Donnas of the football team everywhere I’ve been,” Bunting said. “Last year, there was a lot of, 'Why is he in there, and why am I not in there?’ But now I think they’re working together and have taken a little different outlook. I’ve noticed it in their performances on the field. And, as a group, they want to perform well.
“There was a lot of individual stuff going on. I think Gunter Brewer did a terrific job managing those guys.”
But ultimately, how much pressure falls on the Tar Heels passing game this season will depend on how much improved one of the NCAA’s worst defenses from 2003 has become.
To a man, the UNC defense has earned a magnitude of respect from players on each side of the ball. However after two dismal seasons, only seeing is believing to “Carolina Fan.”
“I feel like we have the chance to be real good this year, when in other years we’ve been subject to what the defense is doing,” Pollock said. “We know what our offense can do, and we know what our defense can do. We practice against them all of the time, and they have shown a lot of improvement.”
With rain the prohibitive favorite for UNC’s Meet the Heels Day Friday night at 6:30 p.m., the alternate venue will be the third floor concourse at the west end zone -- on the side of the Kenan Football Center.
The Tar Heels will practice for the first time in full pads on Friday, and the alternating days of two-a-days, one-a-days will begin on Saturday. Sunday’s practice is open to the media.