With the conclusion of Tuesday's practice, the Tar Heels are now four practices into the spring as they head towards the April 24th spring game that will put a wrap on a much need month of camp. Following Tuesday's practice, head coach Mack Brown met with the media via Zoom to give some updates on the first week of spring practice and more. Here are our biggest takeaways from that meeting with the press.
Injury Issues Starting to Emerge
While it may not be something to be overly concerned by, Mack Brown revealed that the Tar Heels are dealing with some injury issues early in spring camp. Not only did he confirm the fact that Khafre Brown will be out for the remainder of the spring, but that there are some other major contributors that have been banged up this spring, as well. It starts up front where Joshua Ezeudu's presence is being missed after it was announced prior to spring camp that wouldn’t participate due to an injury. Beau Corrales and Kedrick Bingley-Jones appear to still be recovering from injuries suffered last season and while he did return, Storm Duck “tweaked” his lower leg in Saturday’s practice. Brown said that a few other guys, like true freshman defensive end Keeshawn Silver and redshirt freshman tight end Kendall Karr have been “slowed” by ailments, as well. It is early and the good news is the injuries don’t seem to be long term, but this is something worth noting.
Depth Continues to Grow Each Practice
One of the things that the injuries have allowed the Tar Heels to do is continue to build depth, something that Mack Brown has been talking about as a major goal for this team as a whole in the spring. In his press conference on Tuesday, Brown touched on a few spots where the team is already starting to develop some competitive depth. The trenches seem to be in good shape from what Brown has said in his first two press conference, as the defensive line may be well on their way to being threedeep at just about every position, while the offensive line may already have eight guys that he feels comfortable on the offensive line and the of reaching ten at some point before this season could be very attainable. Tight end and corner are two other positions that Brown talked about on Tuesday as being spots where he has liked what he has seen from top to bottom with the units and the injuries to Corrales and Khafre Brown will afford the same opportunities to the wide receiving corps. Brown is liking what he’s seeing and compared it to when he was in Chapel Hill the first time. ”It’s getting more like it was when I left. You’re competing against really good players that'll be as good or better than most of the guys you’ll play now so don’t come out here and stand around cause you are gonna get embarrassed. If you’re injured you shouldn’t practice, but if you’re sore you have to fight through it and practice if you want to play.”
Running Backs and Wide Receivers With Some Early Question Marks
It’s no secret that replacing the running back duo of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter and two of the most productive wide receivers in program history in Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome will not be an easy task. On Tuesday, Brown revealed that the Tar Heels are still in the early stages of this process. In the backfield, Brown says it’s a bit too early to tell who has an advantage. “It’s too early to evaluate the running backs, all the guys still have a chance,” he told the media on Tuesday. Brown did note that he is impressed with the speed that Ty Chandler has shown and it is evident that he has played teams like Florida, Alabama and others in his time in the SEC. This is clearly one position group where the battle for significant reps looks like it will extend well into the fall. The picture may be even more unclear at outside wide receiver here in the spring with both Corrales and Brown out of practice. Brown said on Tuesday that the group has yet to have someone step up in their absences. The most likely options to step up are Emery Simmons and Antoine Green, veteran who have made starts in the system, but so far they have clearly not done enough to impress Brown. Some of the other names that he mentioned on the outside, such as Justin Olson, Tylee Craft and Stephen Gosnell, will have the opportunity to step up and may need to if the injuries to Corrales and Brown linger. The name to keep an eye on here may be true freshman J.J. Jones who Brown said made some nice plays on Saturday and has the mold of a younger version of the departed Dyami Brown. The good news is, it is still early in the spring and there is plenty of time for guys to emerge here and show they have what it takes to fill the vacant roles.
Josh Downs Is Assuming the Role as the Go-To Guy
With Dyami Brown and Newsome gone, the Tar Heels were looking for someone to step into the role as Sam Howell’s go-to receiver. Downs was the obvious choice with everything that was being said about him last offseason and his big performance in the Orange Bowl, but as we know, in sports, nothing is guaranteed. As Mack Brown told us on Tuesday, though, Downs has thrived in that role so far in spring camp. ”Josh Downs hasn’t looked good, he’s been great,” said Brown. “He is our best receiver after four days”. With Corrales and Brown out of the lineup, this is a very positive development and takes some of the pressure off of the inexperienced group that is battling on the outside to see a ton of ball thrown their way early in the season if they are needed in significant roles.