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July 28, 2010To receive is better than to give when it comes to the passing game.
A year ago, raw talent could not overcome inexperience with a receiving corps that relied on two first-year freshmen and a junior that had been moved back and forth between running back and wide receiver during his first two years.
"If you talk to Erik Highsmith; if you talk to Jheranie Boyd, and if you talk to Greg Little for that matter because it was really the first year that time he was a wide receiver every day in practice all season long," Coach Butch Davis said, "for the first time they found out they didn't know what they didn't know.
"The three kids the year before had basically been the starters for three seasons. You talk to Erik Highsmith about this cover, this safety rotation, this hyper rotation, he didn't have a clue in August and September what we were telling him in games.
"It was just out and hope guys could use their God-given athletic ability."
Receivers ran incorrect routes, stopping running during routes and often failed to become a defender when the ball went up for grabs between him and a defensive back.
Throw in an offensive line decimated by injuries and attrition, and the result is UNC quarterbacks combined to throw more interceptions (17) than touchdown passes (14) in 2009.
Questions must still be answered, but there is every reason to believe the answers will be in the affirmative after the work these kids have put in during the off-season.
"Are the receivers going to run the right routes?" Davis said. "Are they going to make the right adjustments if they get pressed bump-and-run?"
Quarterback T.J. Yates said that he has seen substantial improvement throughout the spring and during seven-on-seven drills throughout the summer.
"The spring they did a great job," Yates said. "This summer, we were getting out with those guys every single day, throwing with them, watching film with them. We've had a whole off-season with them.
"Last year they came in during the middle of the summer when all of the freshmen come in, but now we have had an entire off-season with the entire receiving corps, including spring ball."
The work has encompassed much more than just throwing and catching. Yates said the receivers did their part in the weight room throughout the off-season.
"One of the things JBoyd and Mookie [Highsmith] had to do was get stronger," Yates said. "Erik was just a little skinny guy. They have been doing a great job throughout the off-season. They have been extremely focused."
Davis said that the difference is visible.
"Physically, Erik's body has changed dramatically," Davis said. "He's about 25 pounds heavier than a year ago. And in addition to being bigger and stronger, he's going to be faster than a year ago because of the off-season speed work he did with out staff."
Yates said Highsmith is a versatile player, so flexible that offensive coordinator John Shoop plans to move Highsmith into different positions.
"We might be moving Mookie around to different positions because he can do that. One thing I have been doing is helping him with his confidence as a whole. He has to learn every single position on the field. He's become extremely smart out there on the football field.
"We might be doing different formations, shifts, motions, all that stuff, so I try to test him every single day to make sure he's on his game."