On Tuesday, the Tar Heels will kick off spring practice for the 2022 season as they look to turn the page on the underachievement of the 2021 season. With the loss of Sam Howell at quarterback, question marks all around the rest of the offense and a new defensive scheme in place, there will be plenty of position battles taking place for the Tar Heels over the next month and a half. Here is a look at the position battles that we see as the five most intriguing this spring.
Starting JACK Linebacker
This was a battle that Mack Brown mentioned will be a part of spring camp when he was going through the different position groups and it will be an interesting one to watch considering who is involved. Senior Noah Taylor transferred in from Virginia when Jay Bateman was still the defensive coordinator, but he seems to fit this JACK end spot pretty well by what it looks like the responsibilities will be. However, Brown said on Tuesday that him and senior Chris Collins will be battling for reps at the position. Collins is a veteran for the Tar Heels, having played in every game in each of the past two seasons and 33 games overall and he will get a chance to regain a starting position after losing it last year. The Tar Heels are in need of more production off the edges of their defense and this battle will be a key battle in finding that.
Second Starting Outside Receiver
This was going to be an interesting battle regardless, but it became even more intriguing with the news that Justin Olson will be limited in camp. Sophomore J.J. Jones is the first player that looks like he will get a chance to earn the starting job here, but Brown pointed to Kobe Paysour and Tylee Craft as guys that he wants to push this spring and they could very well factor in here in this battle, especially early on until Olson can return. This is a spot that the Tar Heels need to get more production from this season and the battle for reps here could be a fierce one, especially once Olson is healthy.
Starting Offensive Line
Right now there is so much in flux with the offensive line that we will just point to the entire unit as an area to watch for position battles. Senior Asim Richards is probably the safest bet to start again this season, but as Brown told us on Tuesday, it could be at either tackle or guard. Fellow seniors Brian Anderson and Quiron Johnson are also returning starters who are healthy as they’ve been since last spring and should make pushes to be starters, as should grad transfer Corey Gaynor. Another senior, Ed Montilus, might be ready to step up into a full time starting role and his former teammate William Barnes could also push for the biggest role of his career. When it comes to some of the non-seniors that could make an impact, keep an eye on guys like Jonathan Adorno, Cayden Baker and Eli Sutton, as well as the two true freshmen, Zach Rice and Trevyon Green, who Brown had plenty of praise for on Tuesday. There are very few answers here right now meaning things are wide open as the team searches for some answers from a unit that might need to take the biggest step forward this season of any on the team.
Running Back Rotation
This is another position group where there are a lot of question marks heading into spring. British Brooks is the one known quantity in this backfield and that is based on his strong three game finish to the season. There seems to be a lot of confidence, though, that the fifth year senior has what it takes to lead this group and now it is about finding the other two guys who Brown wants to be able to rotate in there. The most experienced options of the remaining group are D.J. Jones and Caleb Hood and both guys have yet to take more than 80 carries in their career thus far, meaning these reps are really anyones to earn. True freshman early enrollee George Pettaway versatility will give him a legit opportunity to see some major reps this season, especially with the praise that he is already receiving in winter workouts. The dark horse is redshirt freshman Kamarro Edmonds, who has dropped 25 lbs. in the offseason and could give the Tar Heels that physical presence in between the tackles that they never really found last year. This race is as wide open as any on the team entering spring and the only reason it isn’t the top battle is because of how important the quarterback position is.
While this is a position battle that will almost certainly extend into the fall, this is the most important battle for the 2022 team. While we got a preview of this battle in the game against Wofford this past fall, there is still a long way to go to find the replacement for Sam Howell. Brown said on Tuesday that the this will be a three man battle to begin, which has to make you believe that true freshman early enrollee Conner Harrell will get a shot along with Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye out of the gate. Criswell and Maye are the two who the battle will likely come down to and this should be a fierce competition throughout spring with both guys possessing a skillset that fits this offense well.