Posted: 8:00 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013
By Doc Kennedy
The 2012 UNC football season had a number of highlights on special teams, most notably a record-setting performance by a kicker and a punt return that got an 800-lb. gorilla off the Tar Heels' back and likely cost a rival coach his job. The 2013 edition of the Tar Heels will have to replace the big names responsible for those big feats, but there are experienced players ready to step into those roles.
For what seems like the first time since the Eisenhower administration, a Barth will not be kicking for Carolina. Casey Barth became UNC's all-time top kicker, replacing his brother Connor in that slot. Yet as good as Casey was, injury issues slowed him over the past two years, allowing Thomas Moore to get key experience. UNC's kicking fortunes will rest on the foot of Moore, now a junior, who has developed his range and accuracy every year.
The punting game will be anchored by junior Tommy Hibbard, who has developed into a solid punter over the past two seasons. UNC ranked first in the ACC in net punting last season and Hibbard has done a good job of putting the ball where he wants it, but was a little too flat some times and outkicked his coverage. Still, punting will not be a concern as it has been as recently as 2011, when UNC finished dead last in the ACC in most punting categories.
Carolina's return game has drawn headlines for the past few seasons due to speedy returners making big plays. T.J. Thorpe, who was spectacular as a returner in 2011 but was injured last year, has returned and will likely see punt return duty yet again along with Roy Smith, who averaged a swift 14 yards per return last season. Kick return duties will be handled by veteran Sean Tapley and speedster Romar Morris, who will be doing his best Giovani Bernard impression in being the starting running back and fielding kicks.
UNC's special teams improved dramatically in 2012, a result of coach Larry Fedora's emphasis on them. Fedora hand-picks players for special teams and the results, both in the return and coverage aspects were immediately apparent. In addition to the big returns, Carolina's kick and punt coverage was vastly better, as evidenced by the punts the Tar Heels blocked last season. The same should be true in 2013, with experience and athleticism in these key areas. Clearly this attention, experience, and athleticism led to at least one Tar Heel victory last year (and an excuse to post this video):