The head coach of the Tar Heels spoke with the media for what is likely the penultimate time this spring as the team enters the final week of camp. He spoke about an injury in the offensive backfield, one position battle being decided and two transfers that continue to stand out along with plenty of other storylines. Here is a look at the biggest things that we think you should take away from what Mack Brown said on Tuesday.
Backup Quarterback Race is Over
A couple of weeks ago, Brown revealed that there would be a battle at backup quarterback between redshirt freshman Conner Harrell and true freshman Tad Hudson. On Tuesday, Brown announced that the competition has already concluded. As expected based on the number of snaps that he was taking with the twos early in camp, Harrell has beaten out Hudson in what was a quick preview of the battle that will likely rage after the season to replace Drake Maye, who is expected to be one of the top picks in the 2024 NFL Draft. I would expect a lot of Harrell on Saturday as the team tries to prepare him to take over for Maye if that situation should present itself this season.
Running Back Room Finally Starting to Get Some Answers
The lack of separation in the backfield has been a major concern for Brown for the better part of the last two springs, but this year, it seems like there is some starting to form as we near the end. Brown said on Tuesday that incumbent starter Elijah Green and the guy who won the starting job in fall camp last year, Omarion Hampton, are the two guys that have separated themselves so far this spring. He added that a healthy British Brooks would also be a third in the rotation once he is able to fully participate after a knee injury end his season a year ago. This is a tough break for a guy like Caleb Hood, who is still working his way back from a season-ending shoulder injury that end his season after some nice flashes last season, and second-year back George Pettaway.
George Pettaway Dealing With Ankle Injury
Another guy who is noticeably absent from that running back rotation is Pettaway and injury may be playing part in that. Brown revealed on Tuesday that he has not practiced in each of the past two weeks after suffering an ankle injury. Brown didn’t seem concerned about this being a long-term issue and that is good news considering how impactful Pettaway was as a kick returner late last season.
Walker and Huzzie Continue to Impress
Devontez Walker and Alijah Huzzie are easily the two transfers that have been talked about the most this spring and they continued to receive praise on Tuesday. Brown really likes the consistency that he has seen from the Walker so far this spring, especially in the deep passing game. The head coach went as far as to compare him to one of the recent standout receivers for the team, Dyami Brown, because of his build and ability to take the top off the defense. Meanwhile, Huzzie continues to make plays at the cornerback position, but with the need at safety, he has been cross-training there as well. Guys like Amari Gainer, Willie Lampkin and Nate McCollum have also been talked about with the impact that they have made at times this spring, but it’s clear that Walker and Huzzie are the two that have made the biggest impacts to this point.
Searching For Six Blue Team Receivers, But Only Have Four Right Now
Brown said that the biggest thing he is looking for at the receiver position right now is six guys that they feel comfortable playing. As Brown said a couple of weeks ago, there are four guys in the room that have separated themselves so far and that remains the case here in the final week of the spring. Walker, fellow transfer Nate McCollum, Kobe Paysour and Gavin Blackwell are the four that will rotate with the first team right now, but there is one young guy that is making a push to be that fifth guy in the room this spring. Andre Greene Jr. is coming off of what was his best scrimmage of the spring on Thursday and Brown said that he is showing signs of someone that is ready to compete for those rotational reps. Brown also mentioned that true freshman early enrollees Christian Hamilton and Paul Billups IV are coming along nicely and will be contributors in the future.
Young Depth Pieces Starting to Push for Significant Reps in the Defensive Front
Brown raved about how well the defense has played so far this spring and one of the big reasons that they have succeeded is because of the depth guys that have stepped up along the defensive front. Redshirt freshman Beau Atkinson has shined off the edge for the team so far this spring and Brown thinks he could be a contributor this season at the power end spot. Another guy that Brown has spoken very highly of in his last two pressers is junior Kedrick Bingley-Jones. Now that he is finally healthy, he is showing out and it could result in him seeing more reps this upcoming season on the interior of that defensive line. One guy that will stand in his way a bit, though, is sophomore Travis Shaw, who has been commended for the weight he has lost this offseason and the athleticism that has come with it. A strong performance in fall camp could allow him to emerge as a starter in the middle of the defensive front.
Finishing Strong is the Emphasis of Camp
Brown pulled no punches when discussing how much the inability to finish last season has been used as fuel for this spring. Brown says that the staff has been stressing how important the month of November is and that they played well early in the season, but couldn’t succeed when they needed to down the stretch. Toughness is the biggest thing being preached right now, both physically and mentally, areas where the team got beaten down late in 2022. “Fans remember November. We remember November. Championships are won in November, and we didn’t play well down the stretch.”
Saturday Schedule Should Be Similar to Last Year’s Spring Game Festivities
Much like a year ago, the indications seem to suggest that the Tar Heels will not be a traditional spring game where the two teams just go back and forth for the two hour window that they will have. Instead, it appears that there will be a period of position drills, followed by a “thud” session of 11-on-11, which Brown says will allow the players that are limited and not yet cleared for full contact to get some valuable reps. After the “thud” session concludes, it will then open up to the full-contact scrimmage that folks are more accustomed to seeing during spring games. Brown did not say if there will be any changes to how the scoring is handled during the full-contact period. Saturday’s final spring practice will start at 3:00 PM with the Kids Zone opening around 1:00 around the Bell Tower. The event will be free to enter.