It has been a rough week for Dre Bly and the Tar Heels defensive backfield, to say the least. Friday saw the transfer of senior cornerback K.J. Sails, a former starter at corner who was the favorite to regain his starting job in a battle at the outside corner spot opposite of Patrice Rene. With Sails gone, the door was open for sophomore C.J. Cotman, who was looking to return from missing the final nine games of the 2018 season. However, as announced on Tuesday morning by multiple sources, the Clearwater, FL natives career is over after he medically retires from football on Monday.
Inside Carolina is reporting that Cotman told head coach Mack Brown of his decision on Monday. Cotman has reportedly been dealing with recurrent migraines and has chosen to step away from football to avoid further issues. Inside Carolina has also said that Cotman is expected to remain at the school and remain a part of the football program. Cotman was a special teams member for most of his freshman season and challenged for the starting job opposite of Sails last offseason with Patrice Rene. Cotman would take over the No. 2 corner job in the middle of the game against East Carolina, but wouldn’t play following that game because of an undisclosed injury. He finishes his short Carolina career with 7 total tackles.
Cotman had reportedly been excelling in spring practice and with K.J. Sails leaving, it seemed like he was heading towards a possible starting job this fall. Instead, the Heels will now have the task of replacing Cotman, the third cornerback that has left the program over the offseason. As of right now, Coach Brown told reporters that the Heels have just five players that are available at the cornerback position for the remainder of spring camp after the three departures and Corey Bell Jr.’s move to wide receiver(Patrice Rene, Greg Ross Jr., Tre Shaw, DeAndre Hollins, and Storm Duck). True freshmen Don Chapman and Obi Egbuna will help the cause when they arrive in the fall, but, despite Coach Brown saying it won’t happen, the Heels may need to consider moving one of two players to that outside.
The first option would be to move safety Myles Wolfolk to that vacant outside corner spot, the position that he was originally recruited to play by Terry Joseph back in high school. That would leave a hole for the Heels at safety and continue to limit the depth they currently have back there, but from early shots and indications, Bryson Richardson may be moving safety, which would make this move easier to accomplish.
The second option would also involve Richardson, but in this scenario, he would start at the nickel position while Morrison kicks outside. Morrison had a breakout season a year ago in the slot and shows all the signs in coverage of being someone who can handle himself if they needed him to move to the outside. There are also other options, such as plucking from the transfer market or moving Corey Bell Jr. back to corner.
If none of those come to fruition, the spot will likely see a battle between junior Greg Ross Jr., who started six games a year ago, sophomore Tre Shaw, who was a key special teams member as a freshman in 2017 and DeAndre Hollins, who saw limited action at corner as a freshman after entering in the fall. Ross Jr. will be a heavy favorite due to his experience, but if a more talented option prevails, don’t be shocked if talent wins out over experience with the new staff.
Even with these changes, Coach Brown and the staff are remaining optimistic about this Tar Heel secondary as we head towards the end of spring camp. Filling the No. 2 corner hole has become a little more difficult, but don’t expect the Hall of Fame coach to allow that to bother the direction that he and Jay Bateman are trying to take this defense.