The talent is there, but it's raw. And outside of returning veteran Jesse Holley, the coaches are far from determining who will step up and fill many open spots vacated by regulars following the graduations of Jarwarski Pollock, Derrele Mitchell and Wallace Wright, as well as the offseason dismissal of Mike Mason.
"We've got a lot of young and untested players that are going to get a ton of opportunities," UNC receivers coach Dave Brock said on Thursday. "I'm looking for Jesse Holley to give us great leadership."
"Brandon Tate is a really exciting guy. Brooks Foster – I can't wait to see him. Kenton Thornton; Dirk Engram – are guys who redshirted and were heavily recruited kids here coming in. We're looking forward to it. They'll get ample opportunities, a clean slate here, and [offensive coordinator Frank] Cignetti brings a lot of energy to the offense."
Brock and Cignetti have their work cut out for them in establishing a passing game with a new, yet to be determined quarterback and just one established ACC caliber wideout. But that's what spring is for, and with new blood moving forward both on the playing field and on the sidelines, excitement isn't lacking. After a 2005 season characterized by dropped passes and overall less than expected production, spring couldn't get here soon enough for some players and coaches.
"It's actually gone by kind of fast," Holley said about having to chew on a personally disappointing performance in his last game, a 30-3 Tar Heels' loss at Virginia Tech back on Nov. 26. "Every time you turn around it's Friday again, and another weekend has come and then another month has past. Friday is the first day of spring ball. It seems like not too long ago we were taking the pads off and now we're putting them back on."
Carolina opens its 2006 season versus Rutgers on Sept. 2. It's one of seven home games for the Tar Heels this season.
Holley has heard Brock's call for his help to guide the wealth of younger receivers on the team. There's no doubt the charismatic senior knows how to communicate. He's also capable of being honest with himself, admitting even he suffered through his own bout of the dropsies last year in key situations.
"The one thing I've had to work on this year is becoming more of and a better leader, as well as a more consistent player," Holley said. "I've got a bunch of pups with me in the wide receiver, so it was big for me to come in here and show my work ethic and how to do things the right way – full speed all the time.
"Being this is my full offseason, I've given up basketball, I'm definitely focused more on football aspects – the details – I've been out catching balls and route running. I've just been working on the little things that I might have slacked off on last year. The big thing last year was us dropping the ball, and I had a couple of drops myself.
"I just want to make sure everything is a go come Sept. 2."