Since spring camp came to an end back in mid-April, the focus, and rightfully so, has been almost strictly focused on the recruiting trail. As we close in on the two week mark before the beginning of fall camp, its time to focus back on the group of Tar Heels that will be taking the field this fall. We start by looking at the potential breakout stars for the 2019 season. Here are five names we encourage you to keep an eye on.
Although Brown was a starter last year, he caught just 17 passes in his true freshman season. With the Tar Heels losing Anthony Ratliff-Williams to the NFL, they will need someone to step up on the outside with Dazz Newsome expected to stay in the slot. Brown seems like the perfect candidate, especially with the new offensive scheme revolving around receivers getting to open space. Brown showed in spring and fall camp last year that it has what it takes to be that guy that steps up next and his combination of speed and route running abilities make him the most complete candidate. Phil Longo’s offenses have historically lent plenty of success to wide receivers and everything seems to point to Brown having a breakout season for the Tar Heels.
The sophomore linebacker made a strong impression on the new coaching staff in the spring at inside linebacker after spending most of his redshirt freshman season on special teams. Senior Jonathan Smith’s return after a spring hiatus due to academic issues means that Gemmel will have to likely to win a battle to earn a starting spot next to Dominique Ross, but Gemmel showed in the spring that he is ready if he is able to beat out Smith. Many see him playing a similar role to the one that Cole Holcomb held down for the last three seasons as the team's volume tackler and coverage linebacker, something the Tar Heels would love to have as part of the new defensive scheme. Gemmel is athletic enough to thrive in Jay Bateman’s defense and if he wins the starting job, look for him to have a big season for the Tar Heels.
Tucker only started one game last year, but the sophomore impressed against a strong NC State defensive line and is now slated to start at right tackle after William Sweet’s departure. Tucker has the movement necessary to pass protect at the level needed in the Tar Heels offense and his lone start showed he has the ability to open holes in the run game. Charlie Heck told the media on Thursday that the new scheme hasn’t had much of an effect on the offensive line, so there shouldn’t be any real substantial concerns with a learning curve, setting up for Tucker to have a big season for the Tar Heels and take that leap that guys like Heck and Bentley Spain have done before him.
It might be controversial to put a player who is not even listed as a starter on this list, but Ford is going to play a significant role for the Tar Heels in 2019. Ford had one of the best springs of anyone, but is still expected to be beat out by Myles Dorn and Myles Wolfolk for the starting jobs unless one has an injury setback. Even if both guys are healthy to begin the season, both have injury histories meaning there will likely be opportunities for Ford to play important snaps. If he can stay healthy himself, there’s an opportunity for him to take a big step forward.
Another true freshman who made an impression a year ago, Collins is poised for a big season at the Tar Heels new RUSH linebacker position. Collins wasn’t on the field often early in 2018, but when he got his opportunity late in the season, he took advantage of it. Collins had six total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack in six games, with most of his 150 snaps taking place down the stretch of the season. Collins will now stand up at the RUSH position, but that role seemed to fit him well in the spring and he has the athleticism to play that role the way Jay Bateman wants it to be played.