There aren't many familiar faces around _ or in front of _ T.J. Yates these days.
Three starters are gone from the offensive line at No. 21 North Carolina, and so are last year's top three receivers. But with Yates back for a third season in charge of the Tar Heels' offense, coach Butch Davis is asking the quarterback to find ways to involve even more of his teammates.
"I would like us to be a lot more balanced offense," Davis said Monday. "We had three phenomenally talented wide receivers last year, and they deserved all the opportunities to touch the ball. I think it would have made us an even more lethal and a better offense, had we been able to incorporate other people besides those three."
That was a top priority this offseason after the exodus of Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster.
Those three combined to catch 114 passes last season _ or, nearly two-thirds of the Tar Heels' total 182 receptions. Finding a way to make up for that lost production is critical for a North Carolina team that opens the season Saturday night against The Citadel, and starts a year ranked for the first time since 1998.
The job of spreading the ball around falls to Yates, who threw for 1,168 yards and 11 touchdowns in roughly half a season last year. If he can't find a way to ensure the offense is diversified, the Tar Heels' stay in the polls could be a short one.
"One of the things we worked on this summer (was) getting more of the passing concepts, more of the balls to the running backs and tight ends," Yates said. "Last year, we had the three guys, and we liked to throw to them a lot. We didn't get it as much to the backs and (other) receivers as we should've. Since we had those guys, we really didn't have to (diversify). But now, we don't have them anymore, so we definitely have got to distribute the ball more (to) all the skill players in the offense."
That probably means more opportunities for running backs Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston and tight end Zack Pianalto. Those three combined for 23 catches and two touchdowns last season.
"The best offenses that I had in Dallas, and certainly the best offenses in Miami, we had talented tight ends, talented running backs, talented wide receivers and you were spreading the ball around," Davis said. "There wasn't just one particular go-to guy."
Of course, it'll help if the Tar Heels can keep Yates protected with an offensive line that must replace starters Calvin Darity, Garrett Reynolds and Aaron Stahl.
North Carolina's two-deep lists two seniors and four freshmen as either starters or top backups on the line, and they'll be counted upon to keep upright the quarterback who broke an ankle last season and missed five games before returning to lead the Tar Heels to an 8-5 record and their first bowl game since 2004.
Yates proclaimed he was "very confident" in the new faces along the line and insisted he's never felt more comfortable running Davis' pro-style offense.
"My first season and a little bit of last season, I was still trying to learn all of the plays and learn the offense," Yates said. "But just having that completely embedded in my memory, it's more about preparing, watching film, getting ready to learn the defenses that I'm going to be seeing, more than learning the offense."