As we get ready to begin fall camp, it’s time for another one of the Heel Tough Blog’s exclusive in-depth position previews. The series will take a look at every player on the Tar Heels 2019 roster and tell you the impact we expect each to have and give you the projected depth chart position-by-position. We continue with a look at the Tar Heels 2019 special teams unit.
One of the only successful parts of the Larry Fedora era that Mack Brown will want to have transfer over during his second tenure back in Chapel Hill will be the special teams success. The unit has plenty of turnover for the 2019 season, but there is enough talent to mask most of the issues.
The unit’s strength will be the return game. Junior Dazz Newsome is back to handle the punt return duties after averaging 15.1 yards per return in 2018. His return touchdown against Syracuse was the highlight of what a great first season as the team’s primary punt returner. Newsome should be in contention, if not the favorite, to earn first-team All-ACC honors as a returner.
Newsome is only starter that returns from the 2018 squad, though. At kick returner, Newsome got a look this summer, but the staff ultimately decided to go with junior running back Michael Carter to return kicks. This seems like a smart move to put one of their best playmakers back there, especially after it worked so well with T.J. Logan and Anthony Ratliff-Williams the last few seasons. Carter has all of the necessary skills to be a strong kick returner and the fact that he returned kick as a senior in high school with plenty of success (39.1 avg, 2 TD in 2016).
The Tar Heels kicking game will also be replacing every starter from a year ago. The position that the staff seems to feel most confident in is punter, where true freshman Ben Kiernan has locked down the spot. Last year as a senior at Wakefield High School, Kiernan averaged 45.3 yards per punt and dropped 23 punts inside the 20-yard line. Kiernan’s leg strength is great, but the reason he has the job locked up is because of his consistency since his arrival for training camp. Kiernan should develop into a huge weapon for the Tar Heels, possibly as early as this season.
The place kicking situation is a totally different situation, though. Sophomore Noah Ruggles will be the starter, but his inconsistencies have been chronicled by the staff this offseason. Ruggles has a strong enough leg, but he will get himself in a rhythm, especially with the fact that Phil Longo’s offense attempted the most field goals nationally a year ago.
The long snapping duties are in better shape, but will be split between place kicking and punting once again this season. Junior Trevor Collins will handle punts, while true freshman Drew Little is will snap on extra points and field goals. Collins’ experience and Little’s talent (he is a scholarship long snapper) is reason to have confidence in this portion of the Tar Heel special teams unit.
Graduate senior Appalachian State transfer Michael Rubino will handle the kickoff duties for the Tar Heels this season. Last year, Rubino handled the kickoff duties for Appalachian State with a relatively solid success rate, seeing 57.7% of his 85 kickoffs go for touchbacks. The Tar Heels would like to see that rate continue to improve this season. Rubino was inconsistent as a place kicker at Appalachian State, but could be an option if Ruggles can’t get things on track early in the season.
The final starter in this group is sophomore placekicker who will handle the holding duties in 2019. Graham will also be one of the depth kickers for the Tar Heels this season, as well.
True freshman-walk-on Jonathan Kim will be another important part of the special teams unit this season. On the unofficial depth chart the team released on Monday, Kim was listed as both the backup punter and placekicker. If injuries take place at either of those positions or if someone struggles, Kim may have a chance to contribute during the 2019 season.
Three other punters will be on the roster this season to provide extra legs if needed. Senior Mike Selsor is the most likely to contribute, while sophomore Mats Pokela and redshirt freshman Nicky Solomon will also provide depth.
Junior walk-on Noah Taylor will be a depth option at long snapper.