"We're not trying to be individuals; we're just trying to work as a group," sophomore Jon Hamlett said. "Maybe we can be stronger as three, than as one guy. How ever Coach Browning makes it work out, we're all getting better."
The Tar Heels have produced an All-ACC tight end in six of the last eight seasons.
Alge Crumpler was named all-conference three times in his career; Freddie Jones, twice; Greg DeLong earned the distinction in 1994, and Bobby Blizzard was honorable mention two years ago before his illness-shortened senior campaign.
However the 2004 preseason signs point to a tight end by committee philosophy, with plenty of football experience, although this is the first year Scott Brumett and Jocques Dumas have played offense at the Division I level.
"What you're trying to do is make players play better than they think they can play and better than everybody else thinks they can play," veteran UNC assistant coach Kenny Browning said. "That's my goal every year as a coach.
"I think they're progressing faster than probably everyone would anticipate," he said. "They're going to be a solid group of players. There are several of them now that can help us in situations."
Brumett was a quarterback at Scott County High School in Pioneer, Tenn. And while he was to begin his college career at East Tennessee State as a tight end, he never played it in a game. From then until he transferred to Carolina prior to the spring, Brumett excelled at linebacker.
"The hardest thing for me was just learning the different side of the ball," Brumett said. "Making the transition over to offense, learning the plays, different blocking schemes and passing routes…I feel real comfortable now.
"I think things have gone as I planned," he said. "I've become good buddies with Jon Hamlett, and we've shared a few things on the field that have helped each other out. He has helped me with the transition to tight end. Overall, everything is going as expected for me."
In a last attempt to utilize his great size and athletic ability, moving Dumas from defensive end to tight end was risky. But Browning said he has been pleased with the transition the Asheboro native has made, despite participating in just 21 practice sessions with Browning during the spring and so far in training camp.
"He's further ahead right now in the running game than he is in the passing game, but he's pretty darn effective as a blocker," Browning said of Dumas. "And he's really got a chance to be an outstanding pass protector. He gets after it. He finishes plays, at times right now, better than anybody I've got. His back was hurting today, but he's solid. I've been pleased with how much progress he's made in 15 days of spring practice and six days here."
Hamlett, on the other hand, came to Chapel Hill after enjoying an excellent prep career as a tight end at Jefferson Forest High School in Lynchburg, Va. It was a good thing, too; after Blizzard was diagnosed with meningitis early last season.
"My freshman year, I was just fortunate to work and move my way up the depth chart," Hamlett said. "After Bobby and John Dunn got hurt, I was able to step in – Coach [Browning] finally got me ready for that. This year, it's been a lot of fun. We've got Jocques and Scott – seniors leading us – and it's nice just to have that support."
The youngest of the bunch is its most experienced. Hamlett played in 10 games last year, with 11 receptions at 10.5 yards per catch. His longest came on a 36-yard touchdown in the Tar Heels' 28-17 win at rain-soaked East Carolina.
"[Hamlett] is stronger than he was last year," Browning said. "He's just getting better all the time. He's working harder and he's getting tougher as he plays. He's got good ball skills. Generally, he's going to have a pretty good idea, and for him it's just a continuation of building on his fundamentals."
Browning said he also expects junior Justin Phillips to contribute as well. Phillips played in five games last year, and caught two passes last year for 28 yards.
"He plays the second tight end," Browning said. "He can play four positions for us. He was a big factor in our win over Wake Forest last year, in terms of how he blocked. He's a great effort guy; very smart and knows what to do."
And with the Tar Heels expecting to run the ball more now that the defense is showing signs of improvement, there may not be as much reliance on their tight ends catching passes as in previous years.