Saturday, the Tar Heels will open their 2023 season, a crucial one for the program in terms of its overall direction, in Charlotte against South Carolina in primetime. On Monday, the team released their depth chart for the game at the conclusion of the team’s media session. Here are our takeaways from the reveal of the group that will take the field on Saturday.
There is nothing to be surprised about here. Drake Maye is set to be one of the nation's top quarterbacks this season and he will be hoping to get his Heisman campaign off to a strong start against the Gamecocks. Conner Harrell will back up the Heisman hopeful after beating out Tad Hudson in the spring and continuing his progression during fall camp.
Back in the spring, it appeared that Omarion Hampton and Elijah Green would be taking the most snaps this season in the backfield, but that will not be the case on Saturday. Seventh-year senior British Brooks is listed atop the depth chart and will share the bulk of the carries with Hampton, something that shouldn’t come as a shock with what we have heard from Mack Brown and the staff this preseason. Brooks has been nothing short of spectacular and Hampton has made strides in every area of his game including pass protection. Green could still have an impact, but it appears that he is currently a step behind the other two. As expected, Caleb Hood and George Pettaway are buried on the depth chart.
Some were shocked by the fact that Gavin Blackwell is expected to start, but the real shock is that Kobe Paysour is listed ahead of Nate McCollum, albeit with an OR beside his name. Both guys will likely see the field substantially on Saturday, but this would seem to indicate that Paysour will be first out there. The other noteworthy element here is the OR next J.J. Jones' name behind Tez Walker. If Walker is unable to go due to his eligibility issue, Jones will likely be the starter at the outside receiver position opposite of Blackwell, but true freshman Christian Hamilton would likely get a chance to play as well. Andre Greene Jr. also appears in the two-deep, which is a sign that he is taking a step forward for the team.
John Copenhaver tops the depth chart after an amazing offseason where he proved his value as both a pass catcher and blocker to new tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens. Bryson Nesbit being the No. 3 tight end is a bit surprising, but with Kitchens statement earlier this offseason about not playing guys who can’t block, it isn’t stunning that a guy who didn’t run block a lot a year ago is behind two guys that did.
Ed Montilus starting is probably the most notable thing here because most of the reports that we heard coming from camp tabbed Willie Lampkin and Jonathan Adorno as the starting guards. Instead, Lampkin will get the start at right guard and Adorno will battle Zach Rice for that backup right guard spot. William Barnes, Corey Gaynor and Spencer Rolland are the other starters, but Brown did let it be known on Monday that Diego Pounds will play some on Saturday at the tackle spots.
There were no real surprises along this defensive front. Kaimon Rucker and Des Evans have been expected to start at the JACK and POWER ends for a while now and it is good to see OR next to Myles Murphy and Kevin Hester Jr.’s names on the depth chart. Both Jahvaree Ritzie and Tomari Fox should play significant roles on Saturday, something that is well deserved for both. Brown also pointed to Amari Gainer, Beau Atkinson and Jacolbe Cowan as guys who could play important snaps off the edge.
This unit depth chart might be even less surprising than quarterback. Cedric Gray and Power Echols are the two clear starters and Amare Campbell is set to be the primary backup to both after securing that role back in fall camp. Sebastian Cheeks is listed as the backup to Gray, but he is battling to become a part of the rotation.
As expected, this reveal did not give us any clearance on the statuses of the banged up members of the unit. At corner Alijah Huzzie, Marcus Allen and Tayon Holloway will all see snaps this weekend as expected, while DeAndre Boykins is listed as the starter at that STAR position. At safety, Giovanni Biggers and Don Chapman will start as long as Chapman is good to go after being seen in a red non-contact jersey in the last scrimmage. One interesting note is that Stick Lane is only listed at boundary safety battling Derrik Allen, meaning the team might be going with converted running back D.J. Jones in the nickel behind Boykins. That means we could see a lot of Jones on Saturday if Boykins can’t go. Will Hardy is listed as the backup field safety right now.
After some inconsistencies this offseason, Ryan Coe has officially won the starting kicking job. The other battle that has been settled is the one at punt returner. Alijah Huzzie will get the first crack at it after some nice success in that role at East Tennessee State and Will Hardy will be his backup. Ben Kiernan will be the team’s holder this season, not Cole Maynard, who handled that role last year, but Maynard will be the backup punter, beating out Tom Maginness. The other starters will be Kiernan at punter, Drew Little at punting long snapper, Spencer Triplett at kicking long snapper and George Pettaway at kick returner.