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March 2, 2009

Tar Heels start search for weapons on offense

North Carolina made a big jump in 2008 in coach Butch Davis' second season, doubling its victory total.

This season, the defense which has nine starters back has a chance to be dominant. But the offense needs to find some new wide receivers and rev up the running game.

North Carolina AT-A-GLANCE
Butch Davis will likely rely on his defense as he looks for playmakers on offense.
Coach: Butch Davis
Last season: 8-5, 4-4 ACC. Lost to West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Spring dates: March 2-April 2
Offense (4): RB Shaun Draughn, C Lowell Dyer, T Kyle Jolly, G Alan Pelc.
Defense (9): T Marvin Austin, CB Kendric Burney, LB Bruce Carter, CB Jordan Hemby, E Robert Quinn, LB Quan Sturdivant, T Cam Thomas, FS Deunta Williams, E E.J. Wilson.
Special teams (1): K Casey Barth.

Here's a look at the Tar Heels as they prepare to open spring drills.

Positions of strength

The front seven on defense will be strong. All the starters along the line are back, and the lone starter in the front seven not returning is middle linebacker Mark Paschal. But the coaches are pumped about the potential of linebacker Kevin Reddick, who enrolled in January after spending a semester at Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy. Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter are set on the outside.

Help is needed

The search is on for wide receivers, with the top three pass catchers from 2008 Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster gone. The trio combined for 114 catches for 1,932 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Greg Little must play a big role for a crew that also will look to Dwight Jones, Todd Harrelson, Joshua Adams and Rashad Mason. More help will arrive in the summer. The rushing offense also needs to become more consistent.

Keep an eye on

OT Mike Ingersoll: The starting right tackle slot is his to win with the departure of second-team All-ACC performer Garrett Reynolds. Ingersoll, a junior, played sparingly in 2007 and '08.

WR Dwight Jones: He played in just one game last season as a true freshman, but Jones a former five-star recruit has a great chance to seize playing time. Jones didn't qualify until late last summer, which put him behind. Now is his chance to make a move.

SS Da'Norris Searcy: All he has to do is replace Trimane Goddard, who was the heart and soul of last season's defense. Searcy, a junior, could get some competition from Matt Merletti, Melvin Williams and Jonathan Smith.

His time is now

Although 2008 was a breakthrough season in many ways for a player who overcame a devastating knee injury earlier in his career, Jordan Hemby's coverage skills still are lacking. With several talented corners arriving, Hemby who will be a fifth-year senior must shine during the spring.

The buzz

It will be key for the Tar Heels to develop depth at receiver and cornerback, two spots that will be thin before newcomers arrive in the summer. It also will be imperative for UNC to stay healthy. To that end, the Heels won't have practices on consecutive days once they get through the first week.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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