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Some of the lesser-known Tar Heel receivers are making an impact

Mitch Trubisky has been spreading the ball around this season, which has given some of the younger receivers opportunities to shine

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Tar Heels had a fearsome quartet of wide receivers in 2015: Quinshad Davis, Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard, and Mack Hollins. These four receivers accounted for 77% of Marquise Williams’ completions and 70% of his passing yardage. The Heels did lose Davis to graduation, but the three returning receivers were widely expected to pick up where they left off and be one of the best college receiving trios in the nation.

For the most part, they haven’t disappointed, combining for 55 catches and 633 yards through four games (well, 3.5 for Hollins). This is just about 50% of Mitch Trubisky’s completions and yards so far this season, and as the trio are all seniors, it is a worthwhile exercise to explore where the other half of Trubisky’s production is coming from so we have a glimpse of the future as well.

Austin Proehl:

The Charlotte native actually did make some noise in 2015, with 12 catches for 221 yards and a touchdown. As a freshman, he caught 15 passes for 106 yards. He’s already improved on both years’ production in 2016, with 15 catches for 206 yards and a touchdown. Overshadowed in Switzer’s record-tying day against Pittsburgh was that Proehl also had a career day, with seven of those catches for 99 yards and his touchdown. He does his damage primarily from the slot, using his shiftiness and quick cutting ability to get open. He doesn’t have the size of Howard or Hollins to win on contested deep balls, nor is he quite as speedy as Switzer, but the coach’s son has shown a nose for the ball and has certainly maximized his increased opportunities this season.

Thomas Jackson:

Another Charlotte native who played sparingly last year, the former walk-on has established himself in the receiver rotation this year. Through four games, he has seven catches for 43 yards, establishing himself as a consistent, short-yardage receiver. Though he is not the physical matchup nightmare that Bug Howard is, one of the things that has stuck out to me about Jackson is his toughness after the catch. I could be wrong, but I seem to recall him falling forward through contact on every catch I can remember. Keep an eye out for him.

Carl Tucker:

Tight End Carl Tucker turned heads in the season opener with two very impressive catch-and-runs against Georgia, but has been very quiet since then with only one catch in the JMU game. The redshirt freshman was offered by Clemson and Tennessee and was a highly-ranked athlete, which bodes well for his ability to play UNC’s Y position, defined on as a hybrid receiver-tight end position, held last year by Kendrick Singleton. He could continue to make some splashes this year, and I think he’ll be a big part of UNC’s offense for the next few years.

Running backs:

One thing UNC’s offense has been doing different from last year is involving the running backs in the passing game. Last year, T.J. Logan, Elijah Hood, and Romar Morris combined for 33 catches. Four games into the season, Logan, Hood, and Khris Francis already have 23. The running backs are also not just being used as check downs; Francis and Logan have been targeted deep downfield several times. Coach Larry Fedora is clearly making an effort to spread the field in new ways, and this method adds a layer of unpredictability to the offense.

The primary focus on the offense is still going to be Switzer, Hollins, and Howard, but Trubisky’s ability to spread the ball around has given us a glimpse of both the players and the offensive style of the next few years under Fedora. That said, it’s still very clear we need some wide receiver recruits. With the recruiting season we’re having though, it’s certainly possible.