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Heel Tough Blog: 2021 Tar Heel Position Previews- ST

We finish our preview of the 2021 Tar Heels with a look at the unit that Mack Brown may be looking for the biggest overall improvement from a year ago. Brown has not been shy to say that he wants to see this unit become one of the best in college football. While there is a long way to go to get to that point, there is reason to be hopeful about the prospects of what this group could be.

Sam Navarro- USA Today Sports

It all starts with the place kicking, as Grayson Atkins returns for his super senior season looking to build off of the momentum that he built late in 2020. After making just six of his first 11 field goals in a Tar Heel uniform, the former FCS great responded to hit seven of his last eight to close, even showing some nice range down the stretch. Brown seems confident in what he has seen from Atkins so far this spring, as well, and there is reason to be confident that he can contribute for this team if needed, something he may have to do early on for this team that has to replace a lot of red zone production from a year ago.

One of the other big areas where the group needs to see better overall production is at the return spots. The strength of last year’s group, Dazz Newsome, is gone, leaving a major hole at punt returner that couples with the need for an explosive kick returner with the departure of Michael Carter, who was relatively pedestrian as a returner. Josh Downs might be one of the best options after he handled both duties in high school and provides a nice combination of speed and shiftiness that would, at the least, allow him to succeed as a punt returner. Khafre Brown has to be strongly considered at kick returner with the fact that he has arguably the best speed on the team and had plenty of success returning kicks in high school. Another name who could factor in would be Ty Chandler, who returned kicks for Tennessee on and off during his first three seasons in Knoxville.

The strength of the unit is in the punting and kickoff games. Junior punter Ben Kiernan is back after another strong season in 2020, one that has landed him on the Ray Guy Award watch list for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, Jonathan Kim enters his junior season, as well, after putting up some of the best kickoff numbers in all of college football a year ago.

The Tar Heels will have to replace long snapper Trevor Collins, who handled place kicking snaps for the team a year, a job that looks like it will be transitioned over to redshirt freshman Spencer Triplett. The team will also have the task of replacing longtime holder Cooper Graham before the start of the season. Junior long snapper Drew Little is back, though, to handle snaps for Kiernan once again this season.

The coverage units had their ups and downs throughout last year, but they should be as strong as they have been under Mack Brown this season. The continued addition of athleticism to the roster will serve both of these units very well and should allow them to be more trustworthy than in the past.

The depth at kicker and punter will contain plenty of walk-on options. Kim looks like he will likely be the backup kicker and redshirt freshman Noah Burnette is also back this year. They will be joined by true freshmen Teagen Lenderink and Todd Pledger, who are joining the team for fall camp. At punter, junior Adam Buck returns, while Cole Maynard, the son of former NFL punter Brad Maynard, is the addition here this offseason.

Projected Depth Chart:


#17 Grayson Atkins, Sr.

#95 Jonathan Kim, Jr.

#98 Noah Burnette, RFr.

#96 Teagen Lenderink, Fr.

#90 Todd Pledger, Fr.


#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

#92 Cole Maynard, Fr.

#94 Adam Buck, Jr.


#95 Jonathan Kim, Jr.

#17 Grayson Atkins, Sr.


#61 Drew Little, Jr.- P

#62 Spencer Triplett, RFr.- PK


#98 Noah Burnette, RFr.

#95 Jonathan Kim, Jr.


# 1 Khafre Brown,


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