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Heel Tough Blog: Biggest Takeaways from Tar Heels All-Access Practice

Tar Heel Athletics

The Tar Heels hosted a televised practice on ACC Network earlier this morning in an attempt to give fans a look at what a daily practice during the spring looks and sounds like. While there may have been some audio issues for the ACC Network preventing it from being exactly what they wanted it to be, there were still some interesting things we observed. Here is a look at our biggest takeaways from what we saw on Saturday.

Excitement About Travis Shaw Continues to Grow

Mack Brown spoke about how pleased he was with Shaw when he met with the media earlier in the week and the staff continued to express that on Saturday with the ACC Network crew. Both Brown and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins were very complimentary of the growth that they have seen from him this spring which has him positioned to be a starter now along that defensive front. If he was able to take a major leap in his third season with the program, it would be absolutely massive for this Tar Heel defense that needs to find difference makers on the defensive line, especially at nose tackle. If he can be that force in the middle that he was in high school, it could be what this unit needs to finally stop the run consistently and get interior pressure on the quarterback.

Malik McGowan Has a Legit Chance to Start at Left Guard

It was hard to break down anything that the players were doing on Saturday because the focus was more on the interviews or the coaches they had mic’d up, but one of the more interesting things to keep an eye on was the offensive line combinations. As expected Howard Sampson and Trevyon Green were the offensive tackles with the ones, Willie Lampkin was the right guard and Austin Blaske was handling the center snaps, but seeing McGowan as the left guard was a bit surprising. The junior from Charlotte is in his fourth year in the program and has been seen as a depth piece so far in his career, but it appears that he might be the guy along this offensive line who is taking advantage of the opportunity at that left guard spot. Zach Rice also saw some time with the ones early in the day, but he didn’t see the amount of reps that McGowan did with them and neither did anyone else that Brown listed as being part of the battle there on Tuesday. Zach Greenberg, the D3 transfer who will join the team in the fall is seen as someone who has a legitimate chance to start when he arrives, but McGowan might just be the biggest threat to him right now.

Tight End Injuries Are a Growing Concern

The Tar Heels entered spring practice with four players at the position on the shelf and that number has grown to five as of Saturday. Brown talked earlier in the week about the fact that Jake Johnson, the transfer Texas A&M, was getting the first team reps the majority of camp with Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver rehabbing from offseason surgery, but he was out on Saturday, meaning the team had just one scholarship tight end available and that may be the case when the team takes the field on Saturday for the spring game. Nesbit and Copenhaver should be back for the start of fall camp, but those two have both been nicked up each of the past two seasons at different times and redshirt freshman Julien Randolph just can’t seem to get on the field. Johnson being able to stay healthy feels like it will be important when the team starts fall camp.

Jordan Shipp Taking Advantage of the Opportunity at Receiver

The tight end spot isn’t the only one that has multiple players out with injuries this spring. Both J.J. Jones and Gavin Blackwell have been out at wide receiver, opening the door for some of the young guys to step up and play with the ones. Guys like Chris Culliver, Paul Billups II and Alex Taylor have all looked good according to the staff, but no one seems to be talked about the way that Shipp has been. One player told the ACC Network crew that they had yet to see a ball hit the ground for him this entire spring and it feels like any time the media goes out to practice, he is one of the first players that other media members bring up when talking about the receivers in the practices that are open to the press. Jones and Blackwell will return for the team in the fall, but it’s hard to think if Shipp keeps thriving the way he is that he won’t have some sort of role with the team this season.

Kaimon Rucker Waited to Get Surgery to Learn New Defense

Rucker talked with Roddy Jones at one point during the practice and discussed a few different things about his injury. He gave him an update on the timetable for the injury, saying that if it is to heal right, he will be able to return in a week. The more interesting part of what he talked about was the reason that he chose to wait on surgery despite suffering the injury in last year’s game against Clemson. He said that he felt it was important to be able to get on the field and learn the Geoff Collins defense. This is just the latest example of why he has become one of the most successful edge rushers in the country and one of the leaders of this team.


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