We have officially hit the halfway point from the start of fall camp to the Tar Heels first game of the 2020 season. Throughout the second week of camp, we had the chance once again to hear from a multitude of Tar Heel players and position coaches to get a better feel for where this team is at headed into the 2021 season. Here is a look at our biggest takeaways from the week of Tar Heel football interviews.
Brian Anderson Is Back Practicing in a Limited Capacity
This was the biggest piece of news that came out of these press conferences, as offensive line coach Stacy Searls announced that the senior center is back to practicing in a limited capacity. Anderson was not able to participate in the early part of fall camp due to a right foot injury, but the expectation was that he would be back for the season opener against Virginia Tech and this update from Searls seems to back up that notion. The good news for the Tar Heels is that, if for some reason Anderson wasn’t able to go against the Hokies, fellow senior Quiron Johnson, who started the lone game that Anderson missed last year, has been raved about again this fall after a nice showing in a rotational role for the team a year ago.
Cedric Gray is Proving to Be a Versatile Depth Linebacker
The linebacking corps had a heavy presence on Thursday and Friday with the media, as both Eugene Asante and Jeremiah Gemmel and position coach Tommy Thigpen all took to the virtual stand. One of the main talking points that they focused on was the growth of the sophomore linebacker. Thigpen says that Gray might be the biggest of the Tar Heel linebackers this season, but at 6’2, 225 lbs. Thigpen says that he might still be the most athletic of the linebackers behind only freakish true freshman RaRa Dillworth. Asante and Gemmel both raved about his versatility, as they both mentioned that he has been taking snaps at both inside linebacker and has looked good at both spots. The linebackers are the one group defensively where Mack Brown has said that there likely won’t be a ton of rotation this season, but if Gray continues to impress, he may give them some second thoughts on that mindset.
Defensive Line Raved About Yet Again
The defensive lines added talent and depth were a major focus of the first week of meeting with the media and that was a theme once again this week. The linebacking group, both inside and outside, talked extensively about the improvement of the unit and how much it helps to make their jobs much easier, especially when it comes to gap assignments. Eugene Asante was especially complementary of a unit that he said is “night and day” from what it was when Mack Brown first arrived back to Chapel Hill.
Confidence Has Been Key For Antoine Green
Last year was the healthiest that Antonie Green has been in his career with the Tar Heels, but it was the few reps that he took in any of his first three seasons at Carolina. However, the current senior, who is entering his fourth season with the program, seems to be in a great spot from both a health and confidence standpoint. On Monday, Green said that it really wasn’t until this spring that he regained his confidence and that has led to his name being put in the running for significant reps at the outside receiver spots. Green, as many may remember, was the starter for the Tar Heels in the first game of the Mack Brown return against South Carolina in Charlotte and started the home opener against Miami, as well, before suffering a lower body injury and missing the next three games. Unfortunately for him, that opened the door for Beau Corrales who joined Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome as guys who broke out in that 2019 season. Now, with him regaining that confidence, he appears ready to contribute once again for the Tar Heels as they look for deep threats and still work to get Corrales back from a sports hernia injury, which, as Mack Brown said on Sunday, still has him limited in practice.
Justin Olson Continues to Push For Reps
Green isn’t the only Tar Heel receiver who has found some confidence and is seeing it pay off this offseason. Olson was raved about last week in the media availability and this week has been no different. Olson himself spoke with the media on Tuesday, saying that there were some difficult moments in his first couple of years on campus, but that it is now all paying off, as he will almost certainly be a major part of the Tar Heel receiving corps this year barring injury. Wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway said on Sunday that Olson is part of the group that is rotating for reps on the outside as one of the deep threats and has also been taking inside as the main slot receiver behind Josh Downs, meaning there should be some decent opportunities for him to carve out a role for himself in this offense this season.
Offensive Line Also Looking to Utilize ‘Fewer Plays, More Production’ Mindset
The ‘fewer plays, more production’ mantra has been used a lot this offseason when talking about the defensive side of the football, but offensive line coach Stacy Searls seemed to allude to the possibility that his unit will also adopt it, as well, this season. He pointed to the fact that the goal is to have a second unit that they could go to without any drop off and it seems like the group has finally reached that goal as we’ve gotten to the fall. The Tar Heels entered the spring with seven guys that they were able to use down the stretch of last season as those that they were confident in and added to that with Jonathan Adorno’s continued progression and the breakout of William Barnes. That left just one tackle spot that needed to see someone step up and that bell has been answered in fall camp by Cayden Baker it appears. He has been talked about multiple times over these past couple of weeks, as Searls says he, along with the other members of that second team brigade, have been rotating in with the first team unit. Searls also talked about just how valuable the position versatility is for this unit, saying that the unit has a bunch of guys who play a variety of positions along the offensive line, something that we saw the value of with a guy like Quiron Johnson last year. The talk all offseason has been about keeping the defensive line fresher for late game situations after some struggles with that late last year, but the same can be said for the offensive line which had its own moments where it seemed to get worn down, especially late in the season. Having a complete two-deep that you can be confident in and can play significant reps if needed is a huge plus for this Tar Heel offense that needs really strong offensive line play this season, especially early one, if they want to be nearly as potent as they were a year ago.