With a successful 2008 season now in the past, North Carolina turns to 2009, hoping to continue down the winning road that head coach Butch Davis is leading them on.
After picking up more wins in 2008 than the last two seasons combined, the Heels are left with four key areas that could determine the outcome of their season.
Offensive Line Cohesion
In 2009, the Tar Heels lose two senior starters from the offensive line in right guard Calvin Darity and right tackle Garret Reynolds.
The Heels will also bring back four upperclassmen at the tackle position, as Kyle Jolly, Carl Gaskins, Mike Ingersoll and Kevin Bryant battle it out for the two spots.
Carolina is its thinnest at the guard and center positions, but senior Lowell Dyer looks to take over the center position after a move in spring practice.
The left guard spot looks to be handled by sophomore Jonathan Cooper, but a battle could ensue for the right guard spot between seniors Greg Elleby and Alan Pelc.
The O-line has to play well to allow quarterback T.J. Yates time to pass. There aren’t three NFL-ready wide receivers on the team this season.
Solid offensive line play can help keep Yates off his back and the run game moving.
Running In Style
Speaking of the run game, Carolina must continue the improvement seen in last year’s running backs.
While the talent at the position is as questionable as it has been in the past, Shaun Draughn, Ryan Houston, and Jamal Womble must keep drives alive and sustain the offense to win games this season.
Draughn rushed for over 800 yards last season while not playing the position a third of the year, and Houston scored eight touchdowns in mostly short yard situations.
If Draughn continues to improve with a spring practice and training camp under his belt and improves his ball carrying capabilities, the Heels could begin to mass produce those 1,000 yard rushers they are so well known for.
Mr. Lattimore, are you paying attention?
UNC returns nine starters on defense in 2009, but last season, the team was held back because of youth.
Tar Heel fans wanted to know why their team didn’t blitz more and why they weren't getting more sacks. Well, a young team and a new defensive coordinator will do that to you.
In 2009, the Heels will have the fastest linebackers in the ACC, with each one of them running at least a 4.4 40-yard dash, and they will be stockpiled with experience on the defensive line.
If Charles Brown can come back healthy and push senior Jordan Hemby at the cornerback spot—which was a problem last year—Carolina’s problem could be solved.
Carolina must find a replacement for safety Tremaine Goddard, but junior Da’Norris Searcy played well enough in the bowl game against West Virginia to lead fans to believe that he can handle the position.
The Tar Heels have a lot of talent on defense and hopefully in 2009, it will be unleashed so that the fans aren’t worried about the prevent-style defense played in so many late game situations that gave us all premature gray hair.
Wide Receiver Play
This is an area most talked about by analysts as the Heels’ biggest problem in 2009, but in all actuality, it isn’t.
There is talent here, just unproven talent.
Everyone remembers Greg Little’s dropped touchdown in the Car Care Bowl last season, but they don’t remember that he missed spring practice, training camp and a third of the year at the position while trying to play running back.
Little, Dwight Jones, Josh Adams and Jheranie Boyd make a group of wide receivers anyone in the ACC would covet.
But in 2009 they must prove it on the field.
With practice and a healthy Yates, the wide receivers will grow into a formidable group in the ACC.
Losing three NFL wide receivers is tough, but remember Heel fans, unproven doesn’t necessarily mean untalented.