It has been one week since the Tar Heels kicked off fall camp and so far we have heard from both coordinators and a host of players. Throughout these collections of meetings with the media, there were a handful of noteworthy things that were said. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the non-Mack Brown pressers from the first week of fall camp.
Excitement About the DL Continues to Grow
The element that has been talked about the most in these press conferences has without a doubt been steps that this defensive line continues to take. Tomari Fox is back from an injury that kept him out of spring practice and the position continues to solidify itself with talented depth. Myles Murphy was constantly talked about as the player at the position that has a chance to breakout, as he has supposedly improved upon the flashes that he showed a year ago and has the position flexibility to play all three of the down lineman spots on this defensive front. Meanwhile, the rotational options who have been bragged about the most are led by true freshmen Jahvaree Ritzie and Keeshawn Silver, a pair that Jay Bateman says he is pleased with in the first week of fall camp and their fellow defensive line mates have been impressed with, as well. Another player that has been raved about for the past week from the unit has been sophomore Kristian Varner, who everyone has seemed to believe will be a contributor for this unit this season. Jay Bateman said that Kedrick Bingley-Jones has also taken a step forward this season after returning from an achilles injury that cost him the 2020 season, giving the team another flexible, talented option. The depth at the position seems like it could go as deep as ten players this season, now it is just about sorting out reps for the unit.
Fewer Plays to More Production a Focus of This Defense
This week has given this Tar Heel defense their montra for the 2021 season. While it was mainly talked about with the defensive line, everyone involved in some way with the defensive side of the football talked about the mindset of fewer plays leading to more production this year. Both Raymond Vohasek and Tomari Fox, who played more than 400 snaps each a year ago along the defensive line, lit up when talking about that mindset and both seemed to think that it will allow them personally to be more impactful late in games this season. This will be important up front, especially with the fact that the unit has improved upon the group that succeeded much more when there was more rotation a year ago. The hope, as Mack Brown said in his press conference, is to avoid the situations that the team ran into against Notre Dame and Texas A&M.
Ja’Qurious Conley and Don Chapman Have Officially Flipped Spots
This was a flip that took place back in the spring and the interviews have confirmed that this will be a permanent move. Conley confirmed that he has been spending all of his time at the bandit safety position so far this spring, which Giovanni Biggers later explained was the boundary safety position, the position that guys like Cam’Ron Kelly and Don Chapman played a year ago. Bateman said in his interview on Monday that the move to safety was the plan all along with Conley and that the nickelback spot was a spot that allowed him to grow into the defensive backfield as a freshman. Now, both Bateman and Conley feel that this is a step that he is ready for and a spot that he will thrive in. Of course, the other element of this is the move of Don Chapman to the nickel, a spot that he hasn’t played at in college, but should be an easier role for him because of the lesser responsibility and the fact that he played some outside corner at the high school level. If this move pays off, it could go a long way in helping this defense take a step forward.
Giovanni Biggers Looks to be Headed Towards a Significant Role
Speaking of taking a step forward, it appears that Giovanni Biggers is set to be a major part of this Tar Heel safety rotation this season. Bateman said on Monday that he has continued to build off of his strong spring, something that has been recognized by his teammates, including Conley and Trey Morrison. Biggers says that he has been rotating his time between both free safety and that bandit spot meaning that he’ll have plenty of opportunity to make his impact felt this season. Biggers says that things started clicking for him last spring and that the confidence came this spring, leading to this big jump. He also mentioned how he is up nearly over 20 lbs. since his arrival to campus, which is one of the main reasons that he feels he has been able to climb the depth chart. At this point, with everything that is being said, you have to wonder if Biggers could be the starter at one of the spots at some point this season.
Still No Voiced Separation at Running Back Behind Ty Chandler
This is the one position group that has been asked about where there doesn’t seem to be a lot of clear answers. Chandler was asked specifically about who was taking the most reps behind him on Tuesday and proceeded to shout out the entire room, something that was also a common theme for most of the other players and coaches asked about the position group during the week. Garrett Walston did have some interesting comments when asked about the group, as he focused primarily on D.J. Jones and Caleb Hood, who he says have been working a lot together since the summer, before he would later touch on the rest of the running back room. The battle for reps behind Chandler appear to be something that no one wants to give anything away with and that might be because there still might not be much separation at this time.
Emery Simmons Could Be the Deep Threat for This Offense
One of the common themes of Tuesday’s interviews was the added speed that Simmons has added this offseason. He said that he has been near the top of the leaderboard of the fastest player in camp so far during this first week, something that he was hoping to accomplish after hearing all of last year from some of the members of the secondary about how much slower he was than them. He pointed to the fact that he has dropped weight and is back to playing at a weight that he was used to back in high school as one of the main reasons for that added speed and it is definitely being noticed. Teammate Josh Downs pointed to him as one of the two main receivers that will help fill that role as the deep threats in this offense. Consistency was also one of the biggest questions about Simmons entering the spring, but Mack Brown labeled him as a consistent player when he met with the media this past Thursday. Simmons also talked about how he continues to work on being a complete receiver, something that he felt he established himself as back at the prep level. Right now, it seems like Simmons has a good chance to win that starting job on the outside opposite of Beau Corrales and may have a chance to breakout in his junior season in Chapel Hill.
Justin Olson Might Be a Sleeper in the Receiver Room
Another player who has had his name mentioned a few times that wasn’t talked about nearly as much as the other options at wide receiver in the spring is Justin Olson. When asked about the players who could assume that role as the deep threat on this 2021 team, it was Simmons and Olson who were mentioned as the top options to assume that role for the team this season. Olson hasn’t seen much time on the field so far in his Tar Heel career, but when he has, he’s flashed. If he can continue to build on this start to fall camp, he might have a shot at earning some decent reps this fall.
Offensive Line Depth Continuing to Expand
The offensive line depth was one of the main talking points of the spring and while it may not have been touched on much during the first week of fall camp, junior offensive tackle Asim Richards did have some interesting comments on the group that were worth noting. It started with his comments on William Barnes, the breakout star for the group in the spring, who Richards said has continued to build on that this fall. One other comment that was interesting and worth noting was that Richards said the Cayden Baker is currently taking reps behind him, showing that Baker, at least for the moment, seems to have to edge over guys like Wyatt Tunall and Diego Pounds for that battle to become the tenth offensive lineman that the staff feels confident in.