Saturday was the first scrimmage of the fall for the Tar Heels, as the team now sits inside of three weeks to the start of the 2021 season on the road in Blacksburg. On Sunday, Tar Heels head coach Mack Brown met with the media to talk about the first week and a half of fall camp and discuss some of the major position battles that are being worked out as we grow closer to the season.
Caleb Hood Would be the First Back to Go In Besides Ty Chandler
The biggest piece of news that could be taken away from this meeting with the media was the fact that the Tar Heels appear to have an emerging No. 2 running back in the backfield behind Ty Chandler. Brown pointed to Hood, the true freshman who played quarterback in high school, as the one who has separated himself from the pack. Brown said that Hood runs with a lot of power and has shown good ball security so far, plus he has “tremendous” ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Brown raved about how complete of a back he was, as well, talking glowingly about his patience when running inside the tackles and his speed that allows him to get to the edge.The one area that is still a work in progress is his ability to pass protect, but Brown did say that he is impressed with Hood more and more with each and every practice. With Hood joining Chandler as a guy who will likely play significant roles in the season opener and beyond, the focus now turns to finding a third option in that backfield with Brown saying that the offensive skills positions are set to be similar to the 2019 groups.
Beau Corrales Still Limited in Practice
This was another piece of significant news that came out of Sunday’s presser. This was only touched shortly at the start by Brown, but he said simply that Corrales is still limited in practice as the days tick off towards the start of the season. Brown said that he is doing “some things” but is still not a full-go yet something that will continue to grow more and more concerning as September 3rd closes in. The wide receiving corps has some talent to help mask the loss of Corrales if he can’t play to start the season, but the Tar Heels would probably like to have his veteran experience and known redzone presence out there to begin the season.
Backup Quarterback Still Not Seeing Separation
One of the voiced concerns that Brown talked about on Sunday was the fact that there is still not any sort of separation behind Sam Howell for the backup quarterback position. The good news is that, according to Brown, “both guys have been playing well”, but he also said that every time there is a feeling of possible separation, the trailing quarterback always seems to reel the other quarterback back in. Brown did say that he has issued a challenge to Phil Longo to try and find other ways to create separation, but this is one battle that could go well into season.
Defense is About “Who Are the Best Players” and “Who Can Play Some Plays”
There is a ton of excitement about this Tar Heel defense heading into the season, in large part because of how much more capable depth this team will have than in each of the past two seasons. Sorting out that depth was one of the main focuses of the scrimmage on Saturday according to Brown, especially down on the defensive line. Brown talked extensively about how many capable bodies the Tar Heels have up front, but now it is about figuring out the reps and how many reps guys will be able to play at a peak level before they need to be subbed out. Brown mentioned the linebacker spot, as well, saying that they have not subbed a lot there in the last two years, but the staff is looking to see if that could be an option this season. He also talked about how, with the roster as a whole, they are trying to figure out which true freshmen are ready to play against Virginia Tech and how many reps they could play. With another scrimmage set for this coming Saturday, these answers will start rolling in fast and furious over the next couple of weeks.
Bryson Nesbit is a Freshman Who Has Jumped Out
One of the biggest surprises so far in fall camp might be the start that Bryson Nesbit is off to. “We are excited about his progress and feel like he is doing well,” Brown said of Nesbit on Sunday. “He can run, he can catch. He’s been doing a great job with his blocking.” Blocking was the thing that looked like it would be a work in progress for him heading into his career at Carolina after not having too much of it in his high school career. If he can prove that he can handle himself in blocking situations, he may be able to earn some of that playing time that Brown says he is making a push for.
Special Teams Has Some Good Pieces in Place
Special teams has been talked about a lot this offseason and Brown says it was one of the major focuses of Saturday’s scrimmage. He pointed to the fact that the unit is a rather veteran at the kicking positions with Grayson Atkins, Ben Kiernan and Jonathan Kim all returning and that there are also some good young returners that are in place to replace Michael Carter and Dazz Newsome. Brown talked about how Newsome should have had better return statistics over the last couple of years with the ability that he had as a punt returner, but the return unit simply failed to give him what he needed to be an elite returner. Brown says that Josh Downs, who looks as if he’ll take over for Newsome as the primary punt returner, has the chance to take it the distance every time he goes back for a return, but it’s up to the unit to give him the room to do that. Brown also talked about the fact that he wants to be more aggressive when it comes to punt blocking, something that was a staple of his special teams units at Texas and will help with the success of the return game.
Jeremiah Gemmel Standing Out Amongst the Leaders
Brown raved about Gemmel on Sunday, mainly focusing on his leadership. He said that many of the younger players look up to Gemmel, someone that Brown points to as one of the best leaders that he has coached in his 33 years as a head coach. Brown also used it as a chance to talk about just how underrated Gemmel is.