2019 was supposed to be different. Brian Hess worked hard this offseason to have this team in good shape, but unfortunately, he and the coaching staff have not been able to shake the bad injury luck of the 2017 and 2018 seasons. For the last two weeks, the Tar Heels have been dealing with multiple injuries to major starters and, as of right now, it looks as if the Tar Heels will be dealing similar injury issues when they take on No. 1 Clemson. Let’s get familiar with the names of players that will be playing significant roles this weekend and beyond due to the Tar Heels injury issues.
Ezeudu started Saturday’s game against Appalachian State in place of starting left tackle Charlie Heck, who is reportedly has a broken hand. While it was far from a flawless performance, the staff feels comfortable with him on the blindside until Heck returns. The 6’5, 325 lbs. redshirt freshman showed on Saturday, as he did when he started at right guard in the spring game, that he has some upside, especially as a run blocker, but is limited as a pass protector. Ezeudu will have a tough test on Saturday, but the goal for him should be to take another step forward and help keep quarterback Sam Howell upright.
After a huge push to get him eligible prior to the season, Kelly failed to play a major role defensively until the second half of Saturday’s loss to Appalachian State. With Myles Wolfolk out with a foot injury that could keep him sidelined for a significant period of time, Kelly will now combine with current starting nickelback D.J. Ford to fill his shoes. Kelly, like Wolfolk, played primarily corner at the prep level, but has the tackling ability and range to have success at the safety spot. In high school, Kelly was a playmaker that loved to force turnovers. Without Wolfolk in the lineup, the Tar Heels are losing a player that has three interceptions already this season. They would love to see Kelly step up and help mask the loss.
It’s becoming more and more likely that backup quarterback Jace Ruder will not be able to go after injuring his leg in his only snap on Saturday. While there have been rumors that linebacker Chazz Surratt has been taking some snaps at quarterback once again this week after switching the positions in the offseason, he will likely be needed to help slow down the Clemson Tigers lethal running game. That leaves the walk-on Amendola, who beat out fellow walk-on Donovan Brewington in the offseason, as the primary backup for this matchup against the defending national champions. Amendola threw for nearly 7,000 yards and 66 touchdowns in his three seasons as a starter at the high school level, including a phenomenal senior season where he threw for over 3,000 yards and added almost 500 yards on the ground. It would be an extremely tough situation for Amendola if he had to enter the game on Saturday, but he has to be ready just in case Howell, who has taken a lot of hits so far this season, goes down.
Myles Wolfolk’s injury means that nickelback D.J. Ford will likely have to play a decent amount of reps at strong safety, meaning someone else will have to step in at nickelback. There are a few different options the Tar Heels could use, but it seems like Hollins is the most likely person to see more reps. Although he has played in every game so far this season, Hollins has just three total tackles, but there is reason to be encouraged after what we heard about his improvement in the spring. Hollins has looked solid in limited reps, now can he handle the expanded role he should see on Saturday and in the next few weeks.
Against Wake Forest and Appalachian State, the Tar Heels played just four wide receivers the entire game, but against Clemson, there may he a chance for another receiver to emerge. There is a reason why Simmons is the only receiver besides the main five (Newsome, D. Brown, Corrales, Green, Groves) to take a snap at wide receiver. Simmons has some of the most reliable hands on the team and he continues to be listed as Dyami Brown’s backup on the depth chart for a reason. If this game does become a blowout or another injury occurs at wide receiver with Green already out, watch for Simmons to get that call.