Heel Tough Blog: Wide Receiver Injuries Leave Questions
The Heels entered the season having to replace their top three receivers from a year ago. Heading into the season, the Heels were confident in the unit they had assembled, which was backed up by the group’s performance in the first two weeks. However, just two weeks later, this unit looks completely different with three receivers sustaining season ending injuries. A unit that had answered the offseason questions now has new one’s that must be answered.
The string of injuries began last Saturday, on the road at Old Dominion, where slot receiver Thomas Jackson (7 rec, 97 yds, 2 TD) went down with a torn meniscus. Jackson was tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions at the time of the injury and seemed to be quarterback Chazz Surratt’s second favorite receiving option. As if losing Jackson wasn’t painful enough, his replacement, Rontavius Groves, who had returned on Saturday after missing the first three games, may have ruptured his patella tendon again after battling back from that same injury that he suffered this offseason. The worst of the injuries, though, took place in the first half of Saturday’s game when leading receiver, Austin Proehl (16 rec, 270 yds, TD), broke his clavicle on a diving reception. This is the same injury that Mack Hollins suffered a year ago, so barring an immaculate turnaround that result in a late season bowl, Proehl’s Carolina career appears to be over.
So now the question is, how do the Heels replace these receivers in order to keep the passing game strong? Senior Jordan Cunningham (12 rec, 143 yds) and sophomore Anthony Ratliff-Williams (10 rec, 192 yds, TD) will be the top two candidates to step up. Ratliff-Williams showed Saturday that he can take his game to the next level when needed, while Cunningham had strong showings in the first three games of the season, but was non-existent against Duke. Both guys will now become go-to options for Surratt going forward. The slot receiver spot will have a few players vying for the snaps. Redshirt freshman Roscoe Johnson (4 rec, 42 yds) is the healthiest of the group, but hadn’t seen much action all since the Cal game before Groves’ injury. True freshman Dazz Newsome (3 rec, 66 yds) showed a flash against Louisville, but is currently dealing with an undisclosed injury that kept him off the field on Saturday. That allowed senior Josh Cabrera (2 rec, 13 yds) to take some snaps in the slot and he looked solid, so he may factor in these next couple of weeks. Junior Devin Perry also saw action on Saturday and has seen scattered action throughout the season after having a strong summer and making an impression on Gunter Brewer. Two others to keep an eye on are sophomore Juval Mollette (1 rec, 12 yds), who had a massive spring, and Beau Corrales (1 rec, 7 yds), who made an impression in the summer.
The Heels could also turn to sets with multiple tight ends. Both Brandon Fritts (8 rec, 66 yds, 0 TD) and Carl Tucker (6 rec, 100 yds) have had strong starts to the season, while Jake Bargas (3 rec, 36 yds) has played well when he’s had the chance.
The last resort, if things were to get worse, would be to move players from other positions to wide receiver. Myles Dorn, who played wide receiver in high school, would probably get the first look and could be impactful if needed. C.J. Cotman, Greg Ross, and Zach Goins all played receiver in high school and could move there if needed.
Wide receiver isn’t the only spot affected by these injuries. Proehl and Groves were the the first and second string punt returners, so with both of them out for the season, it would appear that M.J. Stewart is going to handle the duties.
Injuries have ravaged this Heels squad to this point of the season, especially at receiver. These young guys will not get their chance to shine and it will be interesting to see how they progress.