Mack Brown stopped by with the media on Tuesday to give an update on where things stand for the Tar Heels at the midway point of fall camp. While Tez Walker’s eligibility and the injury issues in the defensive backfield were the biggest storylines to come out of what he said, there were plenty of other elements of this team that Brown touched on. Here’s a look at the other important headlines that out of yesterday’s presser.
Offensive Line is Still Allowing Too Many Sacks
Brown was very honest about where things sit on both sides of the ball, including along the offensive line where the pass protection struggles continue. While he did say that guys like Diego Pounds, Trevyon Green and Zach Rice are stepping up and running with the blue team, it may be more about the performance of the guys in them. Brown remains frustrated with the pass protection and consistency issues that the unit is having, something that has been an issue since Brown arrived back in Chapel Hill. The team is expected to be able to run the ball better this season and Brown expressed his excitement about what he has seen in the run game, but if this unit can’t protect Drake Maye, this won’t be the elite offense that they should be with one of the Heisman favorites at the helm.
Run and Red Zone Defense Need Work
The offensive line isn’t the only area that Brown expressed his concerns with. The team’s run defense is something that he has been harping on for the majority of the offseason and he was not happy with where things are at right now. Part of this might be how well the Tar Heels are running the ball so far in camp with their loaded backfield, but this is not what you want to hear after the staff this a major focus of this offseason. Even more concerning might be the issues with the red zone defense. One of the strengths of Gene Chizik’s defenses in his first stint in Chapel Hill was the ability to bend but not break. Last year, the unit was below average in red zone defense, allowing an 86% conversion rate, and it seems like it could be more of the same this year.
George Pettaway Being Used In the Backfield and the Slot
Brown was raving about the depth of the Tar Heel backfield once again on Tuesday as the team continues the difficult search for separation in the room. One of those guys battling for reps is sophomore George Pettaway and the staff is starting to get creative with how they can get the football in his hands more. He might be the most purely talented player in that room, but the staff is using him in the slot with the log jam they currently have in the backfield. He played there a lot in high school and this is a great way to get the ball in the hands of a guy who has shown he can be explosive in space. This is also a smart way of getting him reps so that you don’t lose him to the transfer portal.
Young Depth Receivers Stepping
There is some concern about what this Tar Heel receiving corps will look like if Devontez Walker is deemed ineligible, but the talent in the room is deep and only continues to grow. True freshman summer enrollee Chris Culliver has come in and caught on quick according to Mack Brown and he could get a serious look at that X-receiver spot if Walker can’t play. Fellow true freshman Christian Hamilton has built upon a really solid spring camp and looks to be pushing to be that sixth receiver that Brown was hoping to add to the rotation back in June. Even redshirt freshman Doc Chapman, who we haven’t heard from much since he arrived on campus last year, has taken off in the past week. Not having Walker this season would certainly hurt, especially early in the season, but that doesn’t mean this wide receiving corps doesn’t have a chance to be really good.
Beau Atkinson Will Play at POWER End
Des Evans is set to be the starting POWER end for the Tar Heels when the season opens on September 2nd. While that means Evans will see the most reps at the position, redshirt freshman Beau Atkinson has continued his push for reps and appears to be earning them. Brown told the media on Tuesday that the second year man has picked right where he left off in the spring and is going to play “some” for them and if Evans struggles to produce the way he has in his first three years, that role could grow as the season goes along.
Amare Campbell Has Won Backup LB Battle
This seemed inevitable with the comments that we had been hearing from the staff each and every time they talked to the media and now it is official. Brown said that the true freshman is the backup to both Cedric Gray and Power Echols right now and that the team is now searching for that fourth linebacker. Brown loves the speed and physicality that Campbell brings to the room and it seems like there is a chance he could play a solid amount of snaps this season.
Tayon Holloway is the Third Corner
Another young guy that has secured himself a significant role for this team is Holloway. He has raved about as much as any player since the middle of spring camp and has secured that No. 3 corner job behind Alijah Huzzie and Marcus Allen. With the way that Brown has talked about Holloway’s play this preseason, it’s hard to believe he won’t play some right out of the gate, especially if DeAndre Boykins is out.
Kaleb Cost is Doing Good Things at STAR
The STAR position is in a state of uncertainty right now with the injuries to Boykins and Antavious “Stick” Lane, meaning others are having to step up. One guy who is doing just that is Cost, a true freshman summer enrollee who both Brown and Chizik have been impressed by. Brown says that he has been playing like an older player and that could allow him to at least have a small role early on in the nickel until Boykins and Lane can get back on the field.