Depth is simply going to be an issue throughout the roster in Larry Fedora's first season in Chapel Hill. He inherited a roster that was recruited by another coaching staff to play another coaching staff's system. While Fedora and his own staff will try to shore up the ranks by recruiting players that fit their schemes, they will have to deal with scholarship reductions over the next three years. This summer, asked to name positions where he's concerned about depth, Fedora named them all - except tight end.
There's reason to feel confident in that position group. In Eric Ebron, Jack Tabb and Sean Fitzpatrick, the Tar Heels have three experienced (yet young) ends that will make an impact in 2012. In Eric Albright and early enrollee Terrance Knox, the team has two more capable players.
"We all bring multiple aspects to the table," Tabb said. "Eric is a great big athlete that can run really fast. He can be put all over the field. For myself, I can be put on the field as well, in the backfield and at wideout, and then Fitz is a real big body, a great blocker, probably the tough guy of the group. We all bring multiple aspects to the table. That's what makes us so great."
With the Tar Heels having to learn a new playbook, it's comforting that Bryn Renner has reliable bodies who can both block rushing defenders and secure passes."I have total confidence in those guys," quarterback Bryn Renner said. "I'm blessed to have two. [T.J. Yates] had Zack (Pianalto) and Ryan (Taylor), and really I've got Eric and Jack and Fitz. Really, I'm very fortunate to have those guys." Renner said he appreciates the versatility of the tight end group. "They've done a great job just adapting to this offense, and they're going to be big parts of this offense. We can split them out wide, and they're almost like receivers," he said.
Just like the rest of the offense, the tight ends have had to adjust to a faster pace of play. The 'no huddle' offense means just that. "You're used to going to a huddle, relaxing for a minute, getting the play and then going back out to hurry up and get set," Tabb said. "It was an adjustment, but I feel like it's going to help us in the game because everyone's going to be running around. The defense is going to be running around too, but we have the advantage of knowing what's going to happen. It was an adjustment, it was hard, but I like it a lot more."
While Fitzpatrick has missed practice time recently due to injury, Ebron and Tabb have had to step forward as leaders at the position. Ebron said that the new playbook opens things up for him, and he's not lacking for confidence. "It widely opens up my potential, and the coaches know it," he said. "Fedora definitely knows it. Me and him have talks of catching 80 to 100 balls this season. Now they're flexing me out wide to pursue that even more. We're planning on breaking records and shattering things all over UNC and the ACC, so with Fedora and this playbook, I can't go wrong."
Even if an opponent takes Ebron out of the passing game, he's confident that he can make an impact. "They would have to completely shut me down, and that's one man, impossible, so they would have to double team me or double cover me, which leaves other players open. So, I'll be a decoy. I have no problem with that, as long as my teammates are getting theirs. I have no problem with taking two or three people in order to get the next man open."
Tabb, too, takes pride in his abilities, but is a bit more understated. "Some of the guys call me 'YAC' Tabb, because of yards after catch, but we've got to wait to see that on Saturday."
Carolina's new offense promises to spread the ball around, and although attrition has hit the wide receivers corps hard, Carolina takes the field next weekend with a talented, and yes, confident, group of tight ends. "We are always in the reads to make plays," Tabb said. "Coach expects it out of us. We're in there to make big plays."
Turner Walston is the managing editor of Tar Heel Monthly. Turner's weekly Tar Heel football podcast, The Walkthrough, is available on iTunes.
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