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Heel Tough Blog: Mack Brown Press Conference Takeaways- April 9th

Inside Carolina

For the first time since the start of spring camp, head coach Mack Brown met with the media to discuss everything going on with the team after nine practices on Tuesday morning. Brown bounced around through a variety of different topics through all of the different position groups and also spent some time talking about team chemistry and the importance of this season. Here are the most important things we took away from what the head man had to say yesterday.

Both Quarterbacks Are Battling, But Max Johnson is Receiving High Praise

Brown led off the presser with an update on the quarterback battle where he basically said that both guys are making plays so far. What was really interesting, though, was the praise that he had for Johnson, who he said is helping Conner Harrell. Brown raved about the success that Johnson had in his time in the SEC and was also very complimentary of his mobility, comparing his rushing ability to what we saw from Drake Maye and Sam Howell. This felt like really high praise for a guy who is competing for the starting job and the comment about him helping Harrell makes you wonder if Johnson has the slight advantage in this race right now.

Concern About Caleb Hood’s Latest Injury Growing

This was a comment that many might pass over because it was something Brown quickly mentioned while going through the running back room, but this is pretty significant. Hood, who has had the majority of his career mired by injuries, is dealing with a hamstring issue that has kept him sidelined for the majority of camp. The good news is that Darwin Barlow has made a nice impression early and Davion Gause is showing some promise in his first spring camp with the team, meaning the room is still in good shape. This is yet another tough break for Hood, though, who will now have to battle from behind in fall camp if he wants to be a part of the rotation this season.

Travis Shaw Shining Along Improving Defensive Front

Brown mentioned a few players who are standing out in the first nine practices, but no one seemed to draw more praise than Travis Shaw did on Tuesday. It all starts with the mindset and approach which Brown says has completely changed for him thanks to conversations that they had with him this offseason. He has brought a more positive mindset to things this spring and has fought through some injuries, all while playing the best football he has played since he has been here. Brown says that he feels like this is finally his time and if that does turn out to be the case, it would be a huge step in the right direction for a defensive line that might be the biggest key to success for this Tar Heel team this season.

Jakeen Harris and Stick Lane Have Stepped Up at Safety, Ty Adams and Tyrane Stewart Making Impressions at Corner

This secondary is undergoing a lot of changes this offseason after four of the top seven members of the unit who played more than 300 snaps departed in the offseason. While that may seem like a lot to overcome, the members of this year’s unit may have Brown more excited than he was with ones from the past few years. He has loved what he has seen from the safety duo of Stick Lane and NC State transfer Jakeen Harris, who seem to have all but locked up the two starting jobs midway through the spring. At corner, Marcus Allen’s injury has opened the door for the younger guys on the roster to take some significant reps and two players seem to have caught Brown’s eye. Redshirt freshman Ty Adams has shown really good ball skills throughout camp and is making a play just about every day according to his head coach. JUCO transfer Tyrane Stewart has also made an impression early on and is well ahead of where the staff envisioned he would be when they brought him. Both of those guys will be interesting to watch in the spring game as they battle to help provide depth for the team in a corner room that desperately needs some.

Offensive Line Has a Ways to Go, But Showing Some Promise

We knew that this would not be an area that Brown would feel the best about when he discussed where things were at midway through spring practice, but he seemed to be in a pretty good spot with the group on Tuesday. The excitement is palpable around Austin Blaske, who is sliding into the center spot left behind by Corey Gaynor and is already starting to exhibit similar attributes to his predecessor. Willie Lampkin has taken over as the leader of the unit and become a much more vocal presence here in the spring for a unit that doesn’t have any proven commodities outside of him. Brown seemed optimistic about what he has seen from the young tackles, especially North Texas transfer Howard Sampson. Brown reiterated multiple times that he and Trevyon Green possess the length needed and both have a chance to be productive players this season for the team at those two tackle spots. The left guard spot is the one that remains the most legitimate battle, with Jonathan Adorno, Zach Rice, Malik McGowan, RJ Grigsby and Aidan Banfield all getting mentions at some point. The question is, can that group begin to separate a little bit as we come down the stretch of camp or is this going to be this wide open when summer transfer Zach Greenberg joins the competition in the fall? With the unit as a whole, it’s tough to get too excited by what Brown said because of how bad things have gotten in the second half of the last two seasons, but it also doesn’t hurt that there are signs of promise for this group.

Not Listening to Those Saying This is an Important Season

The notion that this is an important year for Brown and the direction of the program isn’t the craziest thing to think considering how the last two years have ended, but he isn’t worried about the outside noise. He says the focus for the team is on their own goals and on improving in the areas that have cost them down the stretch in the last two years. The good news for Brown is the expectations won’t be as high for this team as it was in the last two years. In what is seen as a transition year, he just needs to have this team in a position to be playing meaningful football in November and find a way to generate some new buzz about the programs.


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