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Dazz Newsome, UNC Receivers Key for QB Development

By Dave Holcomb
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In Chapel Hill, all eyes will again be behind center this fall.

In Chapel Hill, all eyes will again be behind center this fall.

Since Mitch Trubisky left following the 2016 season, North Carolina hasn’t been able to get the quarterback correct. Former head coach Larry Fedora tried just about everything too, starting graduate transfer Brandon Harris in 2017 before then going the exact opposite route with the inexperienced freshman Chazz Surratt.

Last season, junior Nathan Elliott emerged in the quarterback competition as well. He attempted, by far, the most passes on the team in 2018, but both Elliott and Surratt are off the roster this year.

Maybe that’s a good thing because it gives new coach Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Phil Longo an entirely fresh slate.

Starting completely from scratch can be very tough, though, and it would certainly be better if the offense had a little help. Whomever is behind center could use that help from veteran wide receiver Dazz Newsome.

Going into his junior season, Newsome led the Tar Heels with 44 receptions and was tied for the team lead with two receiving touchdowns last season. He also improved as the season went.

Newsome opened the season with five catches for only 22 yards in the first two weeks, but then he exploded for six receptions and 110 yards against Pitt in Week 4. Leading the team in receiving, Newsome was a big reason why North Carolina beat the eventual Coastal division winners that day, which was the Tar Heels’ only conference win.

The junior-to-be receiver wasn’t involved the following Thursday during a blowout loss against Miami, but then in the last seven games of the year, he averaged 4.4 catches and 66.4 yards from scrimmage per game.

Newsome was able to elevate his yards from scrimmage average because North Carolina ensured he received opportunities to touch the ball on jet sweeps in the rushing game as well during the second half. Against rival Duke, Newsome rushed for an 84-yard touchdown.

He also returned a punt for a touchdown against Syracuse, who North Carolina nearly upset in October. Newsome averaged 15.05 yards per punt return in 19 opportunities.

All of this production makes Newsome clearly one of the better returning playmakers for North Carolina’s new offense. The Tar Heels will also have their top two running backs -- Michael Carter and Antonio Williams -- back too, but Longo runs the spread offense. It would be a surprise if Newsome isn’t his favorite offensive toy.

Newsome and fellow wideout Anthony Ratliff-Williams made up a decent duo last year, as the pair both had 40-plus catches for more than 500 yards. But Ratliff-Williams is off to the NFL, so the question heading into 2019 is whether Newsome can be the No. 1 guy.

That role is harder than it sounds. Assuming he becomes more of a focal point for the North Carolina offense, there will be a greater emphasis from opposing defenses to stop him as well.

No other Tar Heels receiver had more than 18 catches last year. It’s possible that the task of replacing Ratliff-Williams as the other starting wide receiver in Chapel Hill falls to sophomore-to-be Dyami Brown, who had 17 receptions, 173 yards and one touchdown as a freshman. Incoming juniors Beau Corrales and Rontavius Groves will also be in the mix.

Developing the right quarterback this fall is rightfully a major storyline with the Tar Heels. But part of that development is placing whomever starts behind center in the best position to succeed.

It will be a whole lot easier for the UNC signal caller if Newsome becomes a true No. 1 wideout and the rest of the wide receiver core fills the hole left from Ratliff-Williams’ departure to the NFL.