The Tar Heels kick off spring practice on Sunday morning as the team begins their road to the 2023 season. While this team will enter camp off just their second nine win season in the last 26 years, this is a team that will have plenty of position battles going on in camp as they look to improve after the team’s brutal finish. Here is a look at the five position battles that we think you should be keeping tabs on throughout the spring.
5. Starting Running Back
While Elijah Green had a strong finish to the 2022 season after taking over the starting role, it looks like he will have to battle to hold on to the starter role here. In his presser on Wednesday, Brown talked about how he is eager to watch Omarion Hampton and George Pettaway this spring, the prior of which was the starter in the opening game of last season. Add in the fact that British Brooks, who entered last spring as the expected starter, is back as well and this could be the start of another fierce battle for reps in the backfield.
4. Starting Defensive Tackles
The focus of many when it comes to the defensive front will be on the edge rushers, but the interior will produce some of the best battles that you will see on the defensive side of the ball this preseason. Incumbent starters Kevin Hester Jr. and Myles Murphy will be hoping to hang on to their starting jobs after tough 2022 seasons, but they will have some worthy challengers to hold off. Jahvaree Ritzie is back after some solid production as a rotational player and will hope to take the next step and become a full-time starter to help him build off of that production. Second-year sophomore Travis Shaw will be the other big name the duo will have to fend off. As a true freshman, he showed some really nice flashes in limited reps and he could be just what this team needs in the middle of this defense if he can build on those. The Tar Heels simply need to get more push up front this season and the battle for two starting jobs will go a long way toward determining if they can do that.
3. Starting Receivers
When it comes to battles on this list, this is the one that will involve the most pure talent. In the slot, Georgia Tech transfer Nate McCollum is expected to start, but Kobe Paysour, who was simply outstanding whenever he started in place of Josh Downs this past season, could have something to say about that. If McCollum does win that job, Paysour will become a part of a fierce battle for the starting jobs on the outside. He will join transfer Devontez Walker and bowl game standout Andre Greene Jr. as three really strong options for a receiver room that is undergoing a restock after Downs and Antoine Green’s departures.
2. Starting Left Tackle
One would think that with how important it is to protect the blindside, this would be the top battle to watch, but goes to another pair of defensive players. Still, this is an incredibly important decision for the staff to get right with how much this offensive line has struggled to protect the quarterback. Redshirt freshman Zach Rice will come in as the favorite, but he played just sixteen snaps all of last season, so he will have to prove himself to the staff this preseason. The group that he will battle for the job is one that has some highly rated players but is an inexperienced one. Cayden Baker will likely be the biggest challenger, especially with Trevyon Green out for the entirety of spring camp. This may also be the best chance for Eli Sutton to finally push for a significant role after a slow start to his career. This battle is near the top of this list because of the importance of the position, but this is one that Rice should be able to win without much issue if he can live up to expectations.
One of the first things that Gene Chizik said in his introductory press conference last season was that he wanted to find a way to limit the explosives. Believe it or not, the team actually took a step back in that department in 2022, allowing their most passing yards since 2003. A big part of that was due to a lack of communication on the back end and absence of safety help over the top, elements that must change this year if this defense wants to fare any better. Both safety spots should be up for grabs entering the spring, especially with both Giovanni Biggers and Will Hardy out for the entirety of camp. Getting Ja’Quirous Conley back from an injury-riddled 2022 will be huge and he should have a really good shot to earn one of the starting roles. The other could be Hardy’s to lose, but with him out, this spring is a chance for other challengers to set the tone for the eventual battle in fall camp. Artavious Lane not arriving until fall is a bummer, but Derrik Allen, the transfer from Georgia Tech, will get a chance to prove why he was a 4✮ prospect coming out of high school. Veteran Don Chapman will also probably see heavy reps and could factor in during the fall because of his experience. Getting these decisions right will be absolutely vital to the success of this 2023 defense, so Charlton Warren has his work cut out for him here starting on Sunday.