Signing Day Impact: Receivers and A-Back
Receivers are at a premium in the offense preferred by Larry Fedora and offensive coordinator Blake Anderson, and the Tar Heel coaching staff attempted to shore up those ranks with their first two recruiting classes. Let's take a look at who Carolina has returning, and the additions made with the 2013 class.
The Tar Heels lose Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd to graduation. Highsmith had 54 catches for 587 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. Boyd saw his production drop late in his career but certainly provided some highlights along the way (2010 vs. LSU). The team's third-leading receiver was Giovani Bernard, the tailback who elected to enter the 2013 NFL Draft. We'll get to running back later in this series.
Rising sophomore Quinshad Davis was a revelation in 2013. He was a shining example of a great player doing what he was recruited to do in an offense he was recruited to play. Davis led the Tar Heels with 61 catches for 776 yards, and he tied with several players for the team lead with five receiving touchdowns. Davis tied an ACC single-game record with 16 catches at Virginia. Any discussion of the Tar Heel receiving corps moving forward starts with Davis.
Tight end Eric Ebron (a rising junior) had 40 catches for 625 yards and four scores in 2012. Ebron is a supreme talent who at times looked like a man among boys on the field. Other times, he could frustrate you with his mental mistakes. Still, there's no denying his ability, and another year of maturing can only help him (and the Tar Heels).
Another rising junior, Sean Tapley hauled in 26 catches for 361 and five touchdowns. Tapley is capable of highlight-reel plays, but at times he looked like he was still finding his place in the offense.
Jack Tabb had 12 catches for 144 yards and one touchdown. Tabb was used a bit more as a blocking tight end than Ebron.
Walk-on Nic Platt played in nine games and had five catches and was particularly impressive early in the game at Miami. Midfielder Mark McNeill came over from the lacrosse team and had 10 catches for 71 yards. Hurdler Roy Smith was used primarily in the return game but did haul in three passes for 30 yards. Rising sophomores Damien Washington (two catches, 16 yards) and Kendrick Singleton were primarily seen on special teams. T.J. Thorpe was a brilliant return man in 2011 but missed the 2012 season with a foot injury. Reggie Wilkins and too was hurt in 2012.
Jordan Fieulleteau enrolled at Carolina in January. Fieulleteau, from Raleigh's Wakefield High School, was an honorable mention Parade All-America and the leading vote-getter on the AP All-State team. The 6'3, 200-pound Fieulleteau had 111 catches for 1,669 yards and 25 touchdowns in his senior season.
Johnathan 'Bug' Howard is a receiver from Rochelle, Ga. listed at 6'4 and 195 pounds. He posted the state of Georgia's second-highest single-season total with 1,630 yards his senior season."Quinshad was Bug’s host," Fedora said on Signing Day. "When they’re standing there next to each other, Quinshad looked short compared to Bug. Bug is every bit of 6’5, I’m going to say 6’6, and he is very, very athletic with great body control."
Recruiting coordinator Walt Bell said between Howard and Fieulleteau, "We added some length and some physicality to the edge of our offense, as many perimeter screens as we run."
Fedora said both players have good concentration and great hands. "It's going to be fun to get those guys out on the field and have some really good competition out there."
Bell called A-Back Ryan Switzer "outside the hash marks, the most dynamic player in America." Switzer, at 5'10 and 175 pounds is a Parade All-America out of Charleston, W.Va. and was named to the East team roster at the Simper Fidelis All-American Bowl. "We were the first offer for that kid," Bell said. "He’s not prototypical. He doesn’t look like a normal football player. We took him and it was really interesting to see. There wasn’t a part of that process where it wasn’t Ohio State, Penn State, Florida State, Tennessee." Switzer had 206 carries for 2,379 yards and 32 touchdowns and caught 20 passes for 253 yards and four touchdowns.
"How did I find Ryan Switzer? By act of God. Divine intervention," Anderson said. The coaching staff watches tape during the recruiting 'dead period,' and Switzer's film came across Anderson's desk. The coach knew he had a need at A-back, a position that hadn't been recruited by the previous coaching staff. Whereas John Shoop used what he called an H-back, a tight end/fullback (think Ryan Taylor, Christian Wilson), Anderson likes the A-back to be a hybrid tailback/receiver. He said the Tar Heel offense experimented with Tabb and Tapley at times in 2012, but really needed to recruit to fit that role in the scheme.
The coaches liked Switzer's film and then began checking in on him. "Is this guy really what we think he is? And every time we dug, we found out more and more good things about him; about his personality, his work ethic, his attitude toward school . . . we watched him again and just really fell in love with the guy." This was a player that fit Carolina both on and off the field (to get a glimpse into Switzer's character, check out this story from hometown WOWK). "We got in on the ground floor before it blew up and eventually he’d had offers from 20, 30 different schools, but we had a unique niche for him, I think," Anderson said.
Davis should break out in his second season in Chapel Hill, but he'll need players like Tapley and a healthy Thorpe to step forward and help shoulder the load. Singleton and Washington have potential, and if the freshmen are good enough, they'll see the field. This group is getting deeper, and closer to Fedora's ideal at the position.