Tuesday, the Tar Heels put a bow on their 2022 spring camp as head coach Mack Brown, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Phil Longo spoke with the media. Here is a look at the biggest takeaways from this those pressers, which were loaded with updates around this 2022 squad and even the 2023 recruiting trail as the program now heads into the summer months.
Tylee Craft Responding Well to Chemotherapy
This was the best piece of news that came out of Tuesday pressers. Brown said that Craft is responding well to chemotherapy so far and has an extremely positive mindset after finding out his diagnosis back in early March. Brown was also very pleased with the fact that Craft has been able to earn some money off of NIL with the t-shirts that were printed just prior to the spring game, money which is being put towards his chemotherapy treatments.
Battle at Quarterback Down to Two
This was maybe the most impactful piece of news that came out of these pressers from Tuesday. Longo said that he has liked what he has seen from the true freshman early enrollee Conner Harrell, but that this is really a battle that is down to Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye. After the spring game, this shouldn’t come as a shock and this means that the focus in the summer will be more defined as they look to find that one answer at quarterback. Longo said that the goal is ultimately to find that one guy in fall camp, but did say that a two-quarterback system is not out of the question considering the success both himself and Mack Brown have had with them in the past.
Team Should Be Nearly Fully Healthy in Fall
One of the biggest challenges that the team had to navigate this spring was the injury issues that mostly plagued the defensive side of the football, but the good news is that those shouldn’t be an issue heading into the fall. Brown said yesterday that the majority of players who missed the entirety of spring will be full-go’s for the fall, including guys like Raymond Vohasek, Kaimon Rucker and Dae Dae Hollins. However, there is some concern about Ja’Qurious Conley’s status for the start of camp following the lower-body injury that he suffered late in season and Brown said that he could miss some time early in the fall. He said that the hope is that the team would have him up to speed for the season opener but that doesn’t seem to be a certainty at this point. Brown did confirm that the team will not have Jahlil Taylor or Tayon Holloway during fall camp.
Tomari Fox Suspension is Due to Honest Mistake
Brown announced the news that Fox was suspended for the entirety of the 2022 season early in his presser on Tuesday and explained that it is really a story of a young man that made an honest mistake. Brown cited a pre-workout drink as the cause of the failed test and said that Fox had the bottle in his locker and was under the impression that he was within the rule when he drank the supplement. Brown followed that up by expressing his displeasure with the length of the suspension, calling the measure outdated and saying that the NCAA needs to reevaluate these rules that were established a while back.
Heightened Effort and Discipline Define Spring Camp
One of the first things that we heard from all three coaches on Tuesday was about the amount of effort that the team consistently brought to even practice this spring. Both Brown and Longo were extremely encouraged by what they saw this spring as opposed to last and Longo points to the move to start keeping score in practice as the main reason for that improvement. Brown said multiple times this spring that he liked where this was at in terms of mindset a lot better than where they were a year ago at this time and he reiterated that again on Tuesday. He was also very complimentary of the fact that the team has been more disciplined this spring, something that was pointed out last year at this time, but that never seemed to get corrected.
Evans, Balfour Headline Defensive Spring Standouts
Evans was raved about a lot last preseason, but this year’s excitement feels just a little different. As Chizik said on Tuesday, his role is more defined than in the previous and now he gets to focus on finding more consistency. We’ll see if everything carries over into the fall, but there is a lot of excitement about Evans and rightfully so. Fellow junior Myles Murphy had a nice spring as well on that defensive line, taking another step towards stardom. Both Brown and Chizik pointed to him when talking about spring standouts and it seems like he is starting to show the signs of becoming that steady veteran that the Tar Heels need him to be. Sophomore Dontae Balfour got rave reviews from both Brown and Chizik for his performance at corner and one has to wonder if he is not part of Mack Brown’s plans to get the best five defensive backs on the field. Chizik was also very happy with what he saw from the linebacking room as a whole, singling out the improvement that he saw from true freshman Sebastian Cheeks throughout camp.
Paysour, Antoine Green Headline Offensive Spring Standouts
Phil Longo talked a little bit about how thin the team was at wide receiver in the spring, but also highlighted two players at the position that were amongst the biggest standouts on the offensive side of the ball in the spring. He talked briefly about all of the second year receivers on the roster, but singled out Kobe Paysour as a guy that had an “amazing” spring. That combines with Antoine Green who followed a strong finish to the 2021 season with a camp where Longo looked as confident as he ever has. Longo was very complimentary of the tight end group, as the emergence of John Copenhaver has allowed the Tar Heels to go three deep at tight end, allowing them to use Bryson Nesbit more at receiver with the challenges that the team has had with depth in that room. In the backfield, Longo said that he liked what he saw from D.J. Jones in what was a fully healthy spring for him, but said that Elijah Green is playing the best football of his career right now and provides that burst this backfield needs. On the offensive line, Corey Gaynor once again got rave reviews and Longo pointed to Ed Montilus as another guy who is playing the best football of his career right now.
Brown Remaining Positive Despite Slow Recruiting Start
It’s no secret that the Tar Heels are off to a slow start to the 2023 recruiting class and Brown was asked why the team is struggling the way they are. Brown said it is a bit of a mystery to him as to why it seems to be taking prospects longer to make their decisions this cycle, but he thinks that the lifting of COVID restrictions on visits is playing a big role. He said that many of the major prospects that have been visiting want to take an unofficial and official visit to campus before making their decisions, which is slowing down the process. He also said that he believes that less blue chipper in the states of North Carolina and Virginia is playing a big role in the slow start, as is fact that the team has had some important coaching changes this offseason. Brown expects that things will pick up in the months of May and June in terms of commitment.