It hasn’t been all that long since UNC’s most explosive player on offense lined up as a tight end. During the 2013 season, athletic freak Eric Ebron caught 62 passes for 973 yards and three touchdowns on the way to being drafted tenth overall by the Detroit Lions. He was devastatingly quick after the catch and massive enough to haul in contested passes. In the upcoming season, the Heels have another intriguing talent at tight end looking to follow in Ebron’s sizable footsteps.
Brandon Fritts will enter his sophomore season this September after one redshirt year and a promising freshman year. With all the talk about other areas of the offense (very much deserved), it has been easy to forget that North Carolina and Fedora have another potential playmaker in Fritts. He has the size to excel at blocking and contribute as a consistent weapon in the red-zone (6’4” and 245 lbs). Can he make the leap from red-zone threat to a legit option that adds another dynamic layer to an already unstoppable offense?
For now, all signs point to yes. Fritts didn’t see much time on the field last season but, when he did, he made the most of his opportunities. He caught just 16 passes yet four of them went for touchdowns. In particular, he was a deadly red-zone option for Marquise Williams and caught several short passes to score (three of his TD’s were from two yards or less). He wasn’t even the primary offensive tight end either, with senior Kendrick Singleton being the better route-runner. Singleton graduated last year and, despite only being a redshirt sophomore, Fritts is now the most veteran guy on the tight end depth chart. The spot is his to lose.
Even more promising? Fritts and new starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky know each other very well. The two played high school football together back in Ohio and had a tremendous connection on the field (59 catches for 1,187 yards and 17 TD’s in Trubisky’s final year there). Moreover, all the best tight ends nowadays seem to be guys with experience in other sports. Fritts and Trubisky even played basketball together in Ohio, and that kind of athleticism and natural talent has carried over into football. In discussing their relationship last year, the Daily Tar Heel called Trubisky the Tony Romo to Fritts’ Jason Witten. Not a bad QB-TE pairing to emulate.
In limited playing time last year for both, Fritts and Trubisky showed flashes of their close relationship. Against North Carolina A&T, Fritts caught his first career TD from none other than Trubisky. This season, Fritts will again be another enormous end zone target, but he has the chance to be so much more. As Trubisky settles into the starting job, it’ll be wonderful for him to see a familiar face out there running routes. Fritts can be an important safety valve for Trubisky, one that can catch short, last-ditch passes and turn them into real yardage with his deceptive speed.
Fritts, too, has been steadily adjusting to the college game during his time in Chapel Hill. His redshirt season has proved invaluable to his learning and development. You can see it over the course of last year. In the first eight games of the 2015 season, Fritts caught just five total passes and had three games where he didn’t even show up on the stat sheet. In the final six games? Fritts had 11 receptions with a career-high yardage total of 63 against Virginia Tech. The strides he made last year and this summer should get him ready for a big role this season and, again, Fritts should improve game by game.
While all the acclaim and hype has centered around Elijah Hood, Mack Hollins, Ryan Switzer and T.J. Logan thus far, don’t be surprised for Fritts to have a major impact on North Carolina. He could be just what the offense needs to become virtually unstoppable with any number of options for Trubisky. A big, athletic tight end who can block effectively, catch TD’s, and run routes has become a valuable part of modern football. The Heels have exactly that in Fritts.