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Heel Tough Blog: 2023 Midseason Grades

For just the sixth time in program history, the Tar Heels sit a perfect 6-0 as they hit the midway point of the 2023 season. Offensively, the Tar Heels have built off of what they did last year with star quarterback Drake Maye at the helm and defensively, they have made strides unthought of in the preseason. With the team halfway through the regular season, it is time to hand out some midseason grades, one that you would be pretty proud to take home to you parents.

Nell Redmond- USA Today Sports

Quarterbacks: A

#10 Drake Maye (So.): 474 snaps, 146-212, 1902 yds, 12-4 TD-INT, 62 rush, 184 yds, 4 TD

#15 Conner Harrell (RFr.): 8 snaps, 0-2, 0 yds, 0-0 TD-INT, 2 rush, -4 yds

#12 Tad Hudson (Fr.); DNP

#14 Jefferson Boaz (So.): DNP

#16 Russell Tabor (RFr.): DNP

After some early turnovers, Maye put himself firmly in the Heisman race with his performances in the last three games. Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has helped him take the next step with his footwork and processing and it is paying off with a more efficient season and similar numbers to a year ago at this time. If he can replicate what he did in the first half of the season and shine in that final three game stretch, he will be in New York the second Saturday of December. Harrell was able to get some late snaps in the game against Syracuse, but didn’t have the greatest showing. Hopefully he will be able to get more chances to see the field over the course of the next three weeks. None of the other quarterbacks have seen the field so far this year, but the hope is that Hudson could maybe get into a game that’s a blowout in the next few weeks.

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

Running Backs: A-

#28 Omarion Hampton (So.): 291 snaps, 112 rush, 658 yds, 8 TD, 11 tar, 10 rec, 98 yds, TD

#24 British Brooks (Gr.): 163 snaps. 45 rush, 180 yds, TD, 8 tar, 7 rec, 33 yds

# 4 Caleb Hood (Jr.): 34 snaps, 15 rush, 43 yds, TD, 1 tar, 1 rec, 9 yds

#21 Elijah Green (Jr.): 12 snaps, 4 rush, 12 yds

#23 George Pettaway (So.): 2 snaps, 1 tar, 1 rec, 0 yds

#25 Kellan Hood (RFr.): DNP

#34 Jordan Louie (Fr.): DNP

Hampton has really taken hold of the starting job here and it makes sense why. While his season has been a little up and down, he has carried them to wins over Appalachian State and Miami and he has found the endzone in all but one game so far this year. Brooks was the starter in the season opener and looked really good, but has settled into the change of pace role with Hampton’s emergence. Brooks has also done a nice job in pass protection this season, something that he has done on nearly a third of his reps this season. Caleb Hood has handled that third running back role for most of the season and stepped up when they needed him in the Appalachian State game. Green being reduced to the fourth running back role after what he did late last year for this team is shocking and a little disappointing. Pettaway declared during the bye week that he would sit out the rest of the year to redshirt after just playing just two offensive snaps in the first four games. Louie and Kellan Hood have yet to take a snap but are hoping for a chance in the next few weeks.

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

Wide Receivers: A-

# 5 J.J. Jones (Jr.): 369 snaps, 27 tar, 20 rec, 372 yds, 0 TD

# 8 Kobe Paysour (So.): 281 snaps, 27 tar, 22 rec, 282 yds, 3 TD

# 6 Nate McCollum (Jr.): 219 snaps, 41 tar, 31 rec, 374 yds, TD

# 2 Gavin Blackwell (So.): 159 snaps, 12 tar, 6 rec, 88 yds

# 9 Devontez Walker (Jr.): 125 snaps, 15 tar, 12 rec, 175 yds, 3 TD, 2 rush, 19 yds

# 1 Andre Greene Jr. (RFr.): 80 snaps, 4 tar, 1 rec, 4 yds

# 0 Doc Chapman (RFr.): 21 snaps, 3 tar, 2 rec, 7 yds, 1 rush, 7 yds

# 3 Chris Culliver (Fr.): 7 snaps

# 7 Christian Hamilton (Fr.): 4 snaps

#11 Paul Billups II (Fr.): 4 snaps

#13 Tylee Craft (Sr.): DNP

#19 Grady Sherrill (RFr.): DNP

#20 Brooks Miller (So.): DNP

#27 Michael Hall (RFr.): DNP

#38 Aiden Cloninger (RFr.): DNP

#83 Josh Espindola (Fr.): DNP

#84 Cyrus Rogers (So.): DNP

#85 Landon Stevens (Jr.): DNP

#86 Thomas Flynn (So.): DNP

The Tar Heel receiving corps has had a really solid season with the production being spread pretty evenly. McCollum is the team’s leading receiver and has become a reliable figure in that slot since returning from the early season injury that cost him most of the first two games. Walker has been outstanding in his first two games since being declared eligible and has a chance to have a very special second half of the season. Jones has been a pleasant surprise after it looked like he might not play as big of a role because of McCollum and Walker’s additions. Paysour was off to a good start to the season, as well, and was starting to make some strides playing on the outside. He will miss an extended period of time, though, with a broken toe suffered last week in practice. Blackwell won a starting job in fall camp, but he really struggled in the reps that he did play before a concussion sidelined him in the Minnesota game. Greene Jr. was one that many expected to take the next step this year, but he has been nearly silent thus far even when he has been on the field. Chapman has gotten some opportunities on jet sweeps and passes, but is spending the majority of his time on special teams. Everyone else who has seen the field has seen garbage time snaps, something they hopefully get more of in the next few weeks.

Jaylynn Nash- USA Today Sports

Tight Ends: B-

#81 John Copenhaver (Jr.): 216 snaps, 11 tar, 8 rec, 141 yds, 2 TD

#18 Bryson Nesbit (Jr.): 214 snaps, 23 tar, 17 rec, 180 yds, 2 TD

#88 Kamari Morales (Gr.): 199 snaps, 12 tar, 8 rec, 139 yds

#82 Deems May III (RFr.): 7 snaps

#87 Cort Halsey (Fr.): 1 snap, 1 tar, 0 rec, 0 yds

#80 Julien Randolph (Fr.): DNP

#89 Cal Tierney (RFr.): DNP

There was a lot expected from the tight ends this season and so far the results have been solid, but not great. Copenhaver hasn’t had nearly the year that we thought he would so far, but the hand injury that he had early in the season clearly threw some things off early. Nesbit has been inconsistent with his production the entire season, but he is still someone that Maye can rely on as an option when he needs him. Morales has been much quieter in the first half than he has been in years past, but he has still been helpful in the run game. May III and Halsey took their snaps in garbage time against Syracuse and will hope for more starting this weekend.

G Fiume- Getty Images

Offensive Line: B

#65 Corey Gaynor (Gr.): 475 snaps, 55.9 run block, 76.8 pass pro, 60.9 overall, 1.0 sacks allowed, 3 QB pressures allowed

#75 Spencer Rolland (Gr.): 475 snaps, 52.4 run block, 74.6 pass pro, 62.5 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 9 QB pressures allowed

#61 Diego Pounds (So.): 406 snaps, 56.4 run block, 63.2 pass pro, 59.6 overall, 2.0 sacks allowed, 9 QB pressures allowed

#63 Ed Montilus (Gr.): 319 snaps, 48.1 run block, 68.2 pass pro, 53.7 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 9 QB pressures allowed

#53 Willie Lampkin (Jr.): 317 snaps, 79.4 run block, 84.1 pass pro, 78.7 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 4 QB pressures allowed

#76 William Barnes (Sr.): 307 snaps, 45.5 run block, 31.7 pass pro, 45.1 overall, 2.0 sacks allowed, 10 QB pressures allowed

#52 Jonathan Adorno (Sr.): 79 snaps, 62.6 run block, 35.3 pass pro, 59.3 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 1 QB pressure allowed

#78 Trevyon Green (RFr.): 16 snaps, 55.6 run block, 75.1 pass pro, overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 0 QB pressures allowed

#64 Malik McGowan (Jr.): 7 snaps, 57.3 run block, 72.7 pass pro, 58.2 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 0 QB pressures allowed

#54 Chance Carroll (Jr.): 7 snaps, 56.8 run block, 71.9 pass pro, 57.6 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 0 QB pressures allowed

#55 Zach Rice (RFr.): 4 snaps, 59.8 run block, 72.7 pass pro, 60.4 overall, 0.0 sacks allowed, 0 QB pressures allowed

#51 R.J. Grigsby (Fr.): DNP

#60 Carter Kulka (So.): DNP

#68 D.J. Geth (Fr.): DNP

#69 Jarvis Hicks (RFr.): DNP

#72 Nolan McConnell (Fr.): DNP

#73 Eli Sutton (So.): DNP

#74 Justin Kanyuk (RFr.): DNP

#79 Bo Burkes (RFr.): DNP

This was a unit that we were concerned about coming into the year because of what was being said about them in the preseason, but they have proven those concerns to be wrong. Lampkin has easily been the team's best offensive lineman as a run blocker and pass protector and that was witnessed by how much different the unit looked in the two games without him. Both Gaynor and Rolland have taken a step forward in their second seasons with the program, especially in pass protection. Pounds has been very solid since taking over the starting job at left tackle in the second game of the season and looks like he will be the future of the position moving forward. Montilus was forced into action when Lampkin went down with his injury and has been solid in pass protection, but has struggled run blocking. Barnes was the starter at left tackle in the first game and then moved to right guard in the second game before moving to the bench because of how bad he was struggling. Adorno hasn’t been able to take the step we thought he might in the preseason and is locked in a similar backup role to the one he has had for most of his career. Green saw action late against both Pittsburgh and Syracuse and showed some of the promise that the staff has seen from him over the last two years. The others who saw snaps all took them against Syracuse and will hope to get more snaps late in some games over the next few weeks.

Nell Redmond- USA Today Sports

Defensive Front: B+

#25 Kaimon Rucker (Sr.): 374 snaps, 29 ttkl, 10.0 TFL, 6.5 scks, 33 total QB pressures

#10 Desmond Evans (Sr.): 236 snaps, 15 ttkl, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sck, 17 total QB pressures, 2 PD

# 8 Myles Murphy (Sr.): 219 snaps, 14 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 6 total QB pressures

# 0 Tomari Fox (Gr.): 181 snaps, 7 ttkl, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sck, 8 total pressures

# 5 Jahvaree Ritzie (Jr.): 163 snaps, 10 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 10 total pressures

#98 Kevin Hester Jr. (Sr.): 140 snaps, 9 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 4 total QB pressures

# 3 Amari Gainer (Gr.): 127 snaps, 11 ttkl, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 scks, 7 total QB pressures

#12 Beau Atkinson (RFr.): 93 snaps, 6 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 2.0 scks, 9 total QB pressures

# 4 Travis Shaw (So.): 73 snaps, 7 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 total QB pressures

#93 Jacolbe Cowan (Jr.): 47 snaps, 3 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, 2 total QB pressures

#41 Kedrick Bingley-Jones (Jr.): 22 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 1 total QB pressure#40 Tyler Thompson (Fr.): 7 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 total QB pressures

#14 Jaybron Harvey (Fr.): DNP

#24 Malaki Hamrick (So.): DNP

#87 Colby Doreen (Jr.): DNP

#92 Rodney Lora (Fr.): DNP

#94 Joel Starlings (Fr.): DNP

#96 Damon Bremer (Fr.): DNP

When you talk about the units that have seen the most drastic improvement from a year ago, you have to start with this group. Rucker has landed on the Bednarik Award midseason watch list after a simply outstanding start to the season. He is one of the nation’s leaders in sacks and quarterback pressures and is a major part of the Tar Heels defensive turnaround by himself. Evans has finally found his feet at the college level and is having a productive year off the edge opposite of Rucker. Murphy was a bit quiet to begin the year, but has hit his stride in the last two games and it has made a huge difference, especially for this run defense. The trio of Fox, Ritzie and Hester Jr. have all had their moments, but have been too inconsistent so far this year. Gainer and Atkinson have been very productive rotating on the edge and Cowan has been a nice depth piece that can do the same at times. Shaw was pretty quiet until the game against Syracuse, but wasn’t able to build on it because of an upper-body injury suffered in pregame the other night. Bingley-Jones saw a significant amount of snaps against Syracuse, but it doesn’t look like it will amount to much. Thompson saw some garbage time snaps against Syracuse and hopefully he can see more as the season goes along.

Jaylynn Nash- USA Today Sports

Linebackers: A-

#33 Cedric Gray (Sr.): 410 snaps, 52 ttkl, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 scks, 13 total QB pressures, FF, 2 FR, 24 tar, 16 rec allowed, 116 yds allowed, INT, 3 PD

#23 Power Echols (Jr.): 393 snaps, 40 ttkl, 2.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, 8 total QB pressures, FF, 21 tar, 14 rec allowed, 133 yds allowed, TD allowed, INT, PD

#17 Amare Campbell (Fr.): 28 snaps, 4 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 total QB pressures, 1 tar, 1 rec, 0 yds

#32 Sebastian Cheeks (RFr.): 10 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 1 total QB pressure, 0 tar, 0 rec allowed, 0 yds allowed

#44 Randy Caldwell (So.): 2 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 total QB pressures, 0 tar, 0 rec allowed, 0 yds allowed

#55 Cade Law (RFr.): 2 snaps, 1 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 total QB pressures, 0 tar, 0 rec allowed, 0 yds allowed

#36 Jalen Brooks (Jr.): 1 snap, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 total QB pressures, 0 tar, 0 rec allowed, 0 yds allowed

#30 Michael Short (Fr.): DNP

#34 Caleb LaVallee (Fr.): DNP

#45 Jake Harkleroad (Gr.): DNP

#47 CJ Murphy (RFr.): DNP

#48 Milad Aghaiepour (So.): DNP

#53 Gibson Macrae (So.): DNP

The linebacker group has remained a steady force for the team this season led by one of the country’s top duos at the position. Gray has had a tremendous start to the season, continuing to impact every aspect of this defense and hold down the leadership role on this side of the ball. Echols has taken another step from last season, especially in coverage, and was just named a midseason second team All-American earlier this week. Campbell has seen a ton of snaps, but when he has been on the field, he has held it down nicely and shown some promise. The rest of the players here all played their snaps against Syracuse and will hopefully get more opportunities in the next few weeks.

Nell Redmond- USA Today Sports

Defensive Backs: B-

#28 Alijah Huzzie (Jr.): 409 snaps, 23 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 1 total QB pressure, 41 tar, 19 rec allowed, 94 yds allowed, 2 TD allowed, 3 INT, 6 PBU

#29 Marcus Allen (So.): 395 snaps, 20 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 26 tar, 16 rec allowed, 164 yds allowed, TD allowed, 4 PBU

#27 Giovanni Biggers (Gr.): 345 snaps, 23 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 16 tar, 12 rec allowed, 165 yds allowed, TD allowed, INT, 2 PBU

# 2 Don Chapman (Sr.): 317 snaps, 27 ttkl, 2.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 1 total QB pressures, 15 tar, 11 rec allowed, 139 yds allowed, TD allowed, INT, PBU

#20 Tayon Holloway (RFr.): 271 snaps, 15 ttkl, 1.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, 23 tar, 17 rec allowed, 295 yds allowed

# 9 Armani Chatman (Gr.): 108 snaps, 4 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 19 tar, 9 rec allowed, 122 yds allowed, INT, PBU

#31 Will Hardy (So.): 97 snaps, 6 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 4 tar, 1 rec allowed, 34 yds allowed, PBU

# 1 Antavious Lane (Gr.): 97 snaps, 13 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 1 tar, 1 rec allowed, 0 yds allowed

#26 D.J. Jones (Gr.): 54 snaps, 5 ttkl, 0.5 TFL, 0.0 scks, 7 tar, 4 rec allowed, 30 yds allowed

# 6 Lejond Cavazos (Jr.): 7 snaps

# 7 Derrik Allen (Gr.): 7 snaps, 2 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 tar, 0 rec allowed, 0 yds allowed

#15 Tre Miller (Fr.): 5 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 tar, 0 rec allowed, 0 yds allowed

#21 Kaleb Cost (Fr.): 2 snaps, 0 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 0 tar, 0 rec allowed, 0 yds allowed

#11 Ty Adams (Fr.): DNP

#13 Ayden Duncanson (Fr.): DNP

#16 DeAndre Boykins (Jr.): DNP

#19 Reggie Love II (Fr.): DNP

#18 Christopher Holliday (Jr.): DNP

#35 Jaden Selby (RFr.): DNP

#37 Jack Blythe (Fr.): DNP

#38 Naari Short (Jr.): DNP

#39 Major Byrd (RFr.): DNP

Like the defensive front, this is a unit that has shown major improvement from a year ago. Huzzie has transitioned beautifully from the FCS level and has been the lockdown corner that this team lacked last year. Allen hasn’t been perfect this season, but he built upon what he did at the end of last year and has made some important plays. Holloway has been picked on at times so far this year, but he has apparently been solid enough in the staff’s eyes to keep his starting job for now. Chatman has been very solid when he has been on the field and deserves more of an opportunity if Holloway continues to struggle in front of him. At safety, both Chapman and Biggers have taken big leaps this year and have been very sound in both run defense and pass coverage. Hardy and Lane have provided some nice depth here as well and give this group some reliability they haven’t had in years. Jones played very well in the first two games of the season but hasn’t played much since. Cavazos was active for the first time against Syracuse after the injury, but figures to be buried on the depth right now. Everyone else played their snaps in garbage time against Syracuse and are hoping for another opportunity before the end of the season.

Charles LeClaire- USA Today Sports

Special Teams: C-

#26 D.J. Jones (Gr.): 98 snaps

#28 Alijah Huzzie (Jr.): 68 snaps, 4 PR, 22.3 avg, TD

# 0 Doc Chapman (RFr.): 42 snaps

#62 Spencer Triplett (Jr.): 39 snaps

#91 Ben Kiernan (Gr.): 32 snaps, 9 punts, 41.2 avg, 5 inside the 20

#37 Liam Boyd (RFr.): 31 snaps, 31 KO, 61.5 avg, 20 TB

#98 Noah Burnette (Jr.): 28 snaps, 18-18 XP, 9-9 FG, Long of 48

#40 Ryan Coe (Gr.): 24 snaps, 8-8 XP, 3-4 FG, Long of 47, 12 KO, 64.0 avg, 9 TB

#23 George Pettaway (So.): 19 snaps, 2 KR, 17.0 avg

#92 Cole Maynard (So.): 19 snaps

#61 Drew Little (Gr.): 18 snaps

#96 Tom Maginness (So.): 6 snaps, 6 punts, 38.3 avg, 2 inside the 20

# 4 Caleb Hood (Jr.): 5 snaps

#28 Omarion Hampton (So.): 1 snap

#90 Todd Pledger (So.): DNP

The special teams unit has easily been the worst unit on the team this season. The team’s kick coverage unit remains one of the worst in all of college this season despite Boyd being solid after taking over for the injured Coe. The aforementioned Coe has a rough finish to the Appalachian State game before getting hurt leading to Burnette taking over for him and thriving. The kick return game hasn’t produced much regardless of who has been back there and with Pettaway redshirting, it hard to expect much here. Kiernan was having a very solid year for the team prior to the injury that he suffered in the Syracuse game and was lost for the season. Maginness had a promising first game and should be able to hold it down for the rest of the season. Huzzie is the biggest bright spot here with how successful he has been when he has chosen to return the ball.

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