Consistency in the kicking game.
Two major changes in special teams since last season. The first is Casey Barth is now handling the kicking duties solo now that Jay Wooten has transferred to South Carolina. Wooten saw the writing on the wall of the Kenan Football Center that he would see limited action in the kicking game and decided Columbia would be a better fit for him. That leaves Barth, younger brother of former UNC kicker Connor Barth. The kicking game was inconsistent last season and in some cases FGs that should have been made(ones of the 30 yards or less variety) were missed. Against Maryland it ended up being very costly. In that respect Barth has a great deal of pressure riding on him. How Barth goes may very well turn the fortunes of several games for the Heels and seeing how close games have been in the past two years, that is about as safe a bet as one can make.
The second major change actually already happened last season when Brandon Tate was lost for the year due to an knee injury. From mid-season on, the Heels had to put together a return game from the parts that were left. One of those parts was Johnny White who handled kickoff returns post-Tate. White has been tabbed the starter at that same slot for this season. While it would be nice to have a player like Tate who is a threat to break one open, White has the necessary skills to give the Heels some good returns to setup field position. The greater concern is probably directed at the punt return setup where Da'Norris Searcy will handle those duties. Searcy will start at strong safety as well making him ideal to handle punts. Last season, Butch Davis seemed resign to merely catching the football and protecting it after Tate was lost sending Bobby Rome out to handle punt returns. This season Searcy should be able to do more considering that he once played running back in high school. Searcy has a nice combination of speed and strength to punish opposing coverage teams on the return.
One injury that could end up hurting UNC on special teams is the loss of Matt Merletti. Merletti was a special teams co-captain in 2008 and expected to be an integral part of that unit. His loss hurts from an experience, skill and leadership perspective. Overall, special teams is one of those areas that you really do not notice unless it helps you big or hurts you bad. Here is hoping for plenty of the former.