On Sunday, following Saturday’s second preseason scrimmage, head coach Mack Brown met with the media for the third time this fall to discuss the results of that scrimmage, where things stand with some important position battles and the state of recruiting around the Tar Heel football program. Here are our biggest takeaways from what was likely the penultimate presser of the preseason for the head coach of the Tar Heels.
Depth Chart is Coming Together
Brown told the media on Sunday that he and staff were in the process of having conversations with the players to explain where they are on the depth chart as they enter the final week before they go into full preparation mode for Virginia Tech. Brown said that next Monday is when he should have answers for the media on who will be the starters and who will be the guys that play some rotational reps when they head to Blacksburg. This will be a great look at how some of the best battles from camp will shake out and who will get the first cracks at the Hokies on that opening Friday night.
Backup Quarterback and Third Running Back Spots Still Working Themselves Out
Of the battles that remain as the team closes in on the season opener, these are probably the two that remain the most closely contested. The backup quarterback position doesn’t appear to have much more clarity than it did a week ago when Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye were still neck-and-neck with both continuing to show good things in the scrimmages. One interesting note was that he did talk about the experience edge that Criswell does have, something that may end up becoming a factor in this battle if it remains this close over the next week. Brown also pointed to the third running back spot as an area where there hasn’t been a lot of separation, but he did talk about both Josh Henderson and British Brooks and their pass protection abilities, an area where the young guys are still working to improve over this next week in an effort to earn reps. Those are the two positions, along with the corner spots that Mack Brown pointed to that will have the most competition over the final week before he says he will make some major decisions on the depth chart.
Injuries Have Been An Issue for the Receiving Corps
One thing that Mack Brown revealed that has been downplayed a bit this offseason is just how many minor injuries the Tar Heels had in their receiving corps this offseason. Beau Corrales’ struggles to get back to full strength following his offseason surgery has been well documented, but there are some others that haven’t been talked about nearly as much. Khafre Brown is “well”, as Macl Brown described it, but he missed the majority of spring camp following an injury that he suffered back in the spring. Tylee Craft and J.J. Jones are some of the younger guys who have also been slowed a bit with minor ailments at times this summer, both of whom have supposedly flashed when they’ve been on the field. The receiving depth on this team is tremendous, so luckily this hasn’t seemed to cause any major issues for Brown and the staff, but it’s definitely something to note with the Tar Heels wanting to deploy a heavier rotation at the position to resemble more of the 2019 group.
Four Receivers Have Really Separated Themselves
Even with the fact that they are going to be looking to a bunch of guys to step up at receiver, Brown did say on Sunday that four are really seeing the most snaps of the group. He once again praised the work of Josh Downs, who just continues to rake in the rave reviews and create more excitement for the type of season that he could be heading for this year. Brown also spoke very highly of Emery Simmons as someone who has just done “everything right” this summer and has great speed and toughness. He seemed very excited by the jump that Antoine Green has made this offseason and that’s something that Brown attributes to, just as Green did himself last week, confidence. The fourth guy in that group is Justin Olson, who we have been talking about extensively over the past few weeks. Brown focused on Olson’s “great ability to catch the deep ball” and said that the team has been using him both on the outside and in the slot, something that was talked about last week by Olson and his position coach, Lonnie Galloway, and provides him plenty of chances to earn reps. As we mentioned above, there are plenty of capable bodies in this room for the Tar Heels this season, but one of the main goals for Brown was to find separation in the fall and they appear to have accomplished that. While Khafre Brown and Beau Corrales’ injuries could mean a shuffling of the deck when they are back to full health, this foursome appears to be the ones that have broken away from the pack and will see the majority of the snaps against Virginia Tech.
Team Knows That They Will Have a Fight on Their Hands in Blacksburg
There are a lot of people that are looking at the Tar Heels season opener as a trap game right out of the gate and Brown knows it. He mentioned on Sunday that the Hokies are a team that has given the Tar Heels fits in the past, including each of the last two seasons. Brown pointed at the fact that the Tar Heel defense has been pushed around in those games mainly on the ground as one of the big reasons that they have struggled. The running quarterbacks and tight ends are elements of the Hokies offense that the Tar Heels need to do a better job of limiting than they have done in the past two meetings. He also mentioned the team needs to be ready for a ruckus environment and an opponent that hates them and all the hype that they have gotten this preseason. “Nobody on this team is going up there not expecting to have a complete fight.” That’s the mindset that you like to hear around a team that suffered some tough losses on the road to Florida State and Virginia.