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Heel Tough Blog: 2024 Spring Game Recap

UNC Athletics

The Tar Heels hosted their spring game on Saturday in Kenan Stadium, putting a bow on their 2024 spring camp. After a thirty minute warm up, the team hosted an extensive scrimmage that was almost exclusively full contact. Here are the biggest things we took away from the day in Kenan.

Conner Harrell Made Strong Pitch to Be Starting Quarterback

Mack Brown stressed that the team was locked in a real quarterback battle and that certainly appears to be the case after what we saw today. Max Johnson had a solid day for himself, working the short and intermediate passing games well, but he didn’t have nearly the day that Conner Harrell did. Harrell hit two big touchdowns, one beautiful throw down the field to Vari Green and one over the middle on a slant route that Nate McCollum took to the house. He nearly had a third but he just couldn’t connect Paul Billups II, who had the defense over the top. He found that third touchdown later in the day, though, driving the second team offense down the field and finding Jordan Shipp in the endzone. Coming into the day, it felt like Johnson had the edge, but Harrell showed that he has more than a legitimate chance to win the job in the fall.

Defense is Still a Work in Progress

This was our first real look at the new Tar Heel defense and the results were not great to say the least. The unit was pushed around nearly the entire day and struggled to stop the run, even once the deeper roster guys entered the game. There was definitely more aggression from new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, but they gave up far too many big plays and third down conversions. Brown has talked so highly of the defense this spring and the group is missing some key pieces, but this defense may be a little further behind than Brown wants to let on.

Offensive Line Shows A Lot of What Staff Has Been Raving About

It’s hard to crown the offensive line after today but there were a lot of encouraging signs. Starting left tackle Howard Sampson was outstanding in both run blocking and pass protection situations and center Austin Blaske was dominant in the middle. The two guards, Willie Lampkin and Malik McGowan, who took the bulk of the snaps at left guard with the ones, both had very nice days, overpowering the interior defensive line group that was raved about so much in the last week and a half. The second group wasn’t nearly as dominant, but they looked good in run blocking situations and look much more capable of providing depth than in years past. It’s hard to get too excited about this offensive line unit, but this group showed some bery encouraging signs on Saturday.

Defensive Line Disappoints After Receiving High Praise

The two times that Mack Brown met with the media this week, he talked about how excited he was with what he had seen from the defensive line this spring. What he was raving about did not translate, though, on Saturday. Travis Shaw, who Brown has talked more highly of than any other play on the roster this spring, had a very quiet day, as did Jahvaree Ritzie and Kevin Hester Jr., who were the starters for the team on the interior. The younger guys had some moments, but those came against the second and third offensive line groups, making it hard to get too excited about what we saw from them. On the edge, Des Evans made a couple of plays early and Beau Atkinson had a nice play in the run game, but both failed to stand out after that. This group was missing their best player in Kaimon Rucker, but this was not the type of performance that we were hoping to see against an offensive line that is still a question mark.

Young Receivers With a Strong Showing

The young receivers, as they have all spring long, got some extra opportunities on Saturday and looked really good. Paul Billups II, who started with the ones at one of the outside receiver spots, made a couple of nice catches, including the one where he found the endzone, and nearly had another big play for the team later in the day after he did a great job of winning down the field. Jordan Shipp continued his big spring with a handful of nice catches, including two to move the stick and one for a touchdown where he did a great job of high pointing the football and coming down with it. Javarius Green also had a really nice day for himself with the highlight being a beautiful 68-yard touchdown on 3rd & 13 from Conner Harrell. With three former starters set to return to lineup in the fall, it’ll be interesting to see if these young guys push them for reps heading into the season.

Running Back Room is Extremely Thin

Mack Brown said earlier this week that one of the positions the team is looking to add in the transfer portal is running back and it became evident on Saturday why. Don’t get it wrong, the top three back from Saturday all had good days and are very capable players, but after that, the team had to turn to walk-ons that had converted from defensive backfield. Major Byrd had a solid day and showed some nice things, but this is far from ideal to have him that far up on the depth chart. The team has already hosted Simeon Price, the Mississippi State transfer, for a visit and is in contact with Peny Boone, the Louisville transfer, and they need to make sure they bring in someone that can be a capable fourth option in the room in case the injuries to Caleb Hood and Jordan Louie linger.


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