CHAPEL HILL — Twelve different players, including four new receivers, caught a pass in North Carolina's spring scrimmage on Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
The way quarterback T.J. Yates sees it, that's what it will take for the Tar Heels to replace Hakeem Nicks, UNC's career leader in receptions and touchdowns who bypassed his senior season for the NFL.
"You can't replace a guy like that," Yates said. "We're all going to have to work as hard as we can."
Saturday's showcase was a group effort at receiver with sophomore Dwight Jones and freshman Joshua Adams — two of the targets coach Butch Davis is counting on to replace Nicks — leading the way with three catches each.
Jones, considered one of the recruiting gems from 2008, had the highlight of the 68-play scrimmage. The big 6-4 target from Burlington got behind the UNC secondary for a 46-yard diving catch, one yard short of the end zone.
"I thought I was in the end zone," said Jones, who finished with three catches for 61 yards.
The Heels have to replace 114 catches and 17 touchdowns with losses of Nicks and seniors Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate at receiver.
Jones and junior Greg Little started with the first-team offense.
Little, who began his career at receiver and then switched to running back at the start of 2008 before returning to receiver, is the only receiver on the roster with a career reception. Little was not one of the 12 different players with a catch on Saturday, though.
Adams, a heralded recruit and another big (6-4, 200) target, also showed signs of help for Yates and the offense with three catches for 20 yards. Adams a true freshman, enrolled in January to get a head start on his college career.
"We're going to be just fine at receiver," Yates said. "It's going to be structured differently."
Receiver is one of the few positions of inexperience for the Heels, who have six offensive starters and nine defensive back from last year's 8-5 Meineke Bowl team.
UNC is set at running back with starters Shaun Draughn (866 yards) and Ryan Houston (eight touchdowns) but Davis was encouraged by the effort of redshirt-freshman Jamal Womble (seven carries for 50 yards) on Saturday.
"[Womble] ran very physical and he has the ability to make people miss in the hole," Davis said.
Davis praised his veteran defensive line (senior end E.J. Wilson had two sacks) and new punter Grant Shallock but the new receivers were his main focus.
"We kinda got spoiled the last two years," Davis said. "We're going to have press this receiver corps to be sure they can come in there and make those critical catches that are going to keep drives alive or score touchdowns."
Davis said next year's spring game would be moved to mid-April to avoid any conflict with the basketball team in the NCAA Tournament or weather concerns. Only about 2,000 fans were on hand on Saturday.