The Tar Heels continue to roll along with their 2023 fall camp, and we have been able to hear from each of the coordinators to update where things stand the last two days. There was a range of topics and position groups that they touched on, but here are the most important things to take away from what they said.
Defense Ahead of Schedule in Year Two
Chizik was very honest when talking about the struggles in his first season back in Chapel Hill when he spoke on Thursday. He admitted that there was a learning curve for him after being out of the game for a few years and that it took time for him and the staff to make the adjustments. Some of the most significant changes that he wasn’t prepared for were the sheer amount of RPO and quick throws to the sidelines, something that wasn’t nearly as present the last time that he was on the Tar Heel sidelines back in 2016. Chizik says that the learning curve for him and the other coaches is behind them, though, and that this group is ahead of schedule this year. With nearly all of the major contributors in the second year in the system, he doesn’t see the guessing that he saw at times last year and it is leading to them playing faster, more violent football. The group has shown more short-area quickness so far in camp and is holding gaps better than a year ago. Hearing this from Chizik is certainly encouraging, but there is still too much uncertainty and past failure to believe that this unit can take a step forward this year before we actually see it show up on a game day.
Secondary Injury Issues Continue
The Tar Heels entered fall camp without one of their projected starters at safety, Will Hardy, due to setback in his recovery from an upper-body ailment. The injury issues have continued this week with Lejond Cavazos, who started the final three games of last year, being sidelined indefinitely with a lower-body injury. It doesn’t stop there, though, as both DeAndre Boykins and Antavious “Stick” Lane have missed the last few practices with problems of their own. With them on the shelf, Alijah Huzzie, DJ Jones and Kaleb Cost have all been seeing snaps at STAR spot. Boykins and Lane’s injuries don’t seem to be a major concern, but it is scary the number of issues this unit, which has been troublesome healthwise for the team in the past, is already dealing with.
Secondary Has a Good Mix of Youth and Experience
This year’s Tar Heel secondary has a much different look to it that the unit that they rolled out there a year ago. Through the combination of transfer portal additions this offseason and recruiting trail additions the past few years, the Tar Heels have built a secondary that has a nice blend of experience and youth. Guys like Huzzie, Lane and Armani Chatman have a lot of experience already under their belt, something the team needed in that room after all the transfers. They combine with talented underclassmen like Marcus Allen and Tayon Holloway, who have both wowed the coaching staff so far and are expected to play big roles. Holloway is a guy that continues to get talked about every time the secondary is brought up be of how many plays he is making in the preseason. It has to translate over for him into the season, but this group looks to have some playmakers in it. Now the question is, can the unit stay healthy enough to make those plays?
Amare Campbell Looks to Have the Edge in Race for Backup LB
One of the more intriguing battles going on the defensive side of the football right now is the one to be the primary rotational option at linebacker behind Cedric Gray and Power Echols. Praise has been pouring in since the spring for Campbell, the true freshman early enrollee, and it was no different on Thursday when Chizik talked about the two guys battling for that role. Chizik has been impressed by how fast he has been able to pick the scheme up and it is allowing him to play quicker and with more of a physical edge every time he is out there. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Sebastian Cheeks still appears to be a work in progress. Chizik is very pleased with how far he has come in the mental aspect of the game but feels like he isn’t playing with the level of physicality that he should be with how he is built. At this point, it appears unless there is a drastic improvement from Cheeks in the next couple of weeks, Campbell will be the guy rotating in occasionally in Charlotte against South Carolina.
Des Evans is Looking the Best He Ever Has
It feels like we hear this every year around this time with Evans but it never really translates into the season. This year is Evans's last chance, though, to prove that he has what it takes to be the impactful edge rusher that this team has needed him to be since he got on campus. Chizik is happy for the most part with what he has seen from him, saying that this is the best he has rushed the passer since he has been here. He is also impressed by the approach that he has taken this offseason, something that Evans told us a little bit about when he spoke a few days ago. The two areas that he did point to him still needing some work in were his pad level and physicality, things that Chizik said everyone needs to work on.
Offensive Line Consistency Simply Isn’t There
Lindsey expressed some real concern about the Tar Heel offensive line when he spoke to the media on Friday. When asked about the depth of the unit, Lindsey was brutally honest saying the depth is not there and that the unit as a whole has lacked consistency. The frustration seems to lie in the poor tape and penalty problems that are showing up way too often so far in fall camp. This is very concerning considering the struggles that the unit has had in each of the last two years. This is the second consecutive season that the unit is being coached by a new coach, but it feels like there shouldn’t be so much inconsistency at this point in fall camp. The fact that once again we have to worry about the starter along this offensive line is extremely frustrating.
Focus With Maye Has Been on Footwork and Drops
Lindsey seems to be pretty happy to be working with one of the best quarterbacks in the entire country. He attended the Tar Heels’ bowl game and said he was really impressed with his instincts along with his ability to make plays off schedule. The one area that Lindsey has been working on improving with Maye this offseason is his footwork which includes deeper drops. The impact that they are expecting the improved footwork to have is the timing of when the ball comes out, which is the key to making good throws. Lindsey also mentioned the impact that his improved footwork is going to have on the RPO game, which should still be a significant part of the offensive gameplan. It should come as no shock that Maye has been driven to do everything that Lindsey has been trying to help him with and the new offensive coordinator seemed impressed by the strides that he has seen from him in this department.
Tar Heels Still “Full Speed” with Tez Walker
The decision from the NCAA regarding Tez Walker’s eligibility has been one of the talking points throughout the world of college football since the ruling was revealed on Tuesday. Many have rallied around the push to get him eligible and the staff remains confident that his appeal will clear. In the meantime, the team still has him at “full speed” with the starters as they draw closer to the September 2nd trip to Charlotte for the Duke Mayo Classic. Lindsey expressed a very confident attitude toward the Kent State transfer’s situation to the media on Friday, saying that they are “counting on him playing.” It will be interesting to monitor how the team handles the snaps there the rest of camp and what will happen if there is no ruling on the appeal within the next week or so.
Kobe Paysour Could Be the Guy That Steps Up in Tez Walker’s Absence
When Gavin Blackwell was the player taking the majority of the snaps with the blue team on the first day of fall camp, it seemed to indicate that the staff was pretty locked into the idea of keeping Paysour in the slot. When Lindsey spoke on Friday, though, he may have opened the door to the possibility of the sophomore being the player that receives the starting role left behind by Walker if that scenario plays out. When asked about the guys that have stood out in the wide receiver room besides Walker, he mentioned Paysour and the versatility that he has shown so far this offseason. While the team would like to have someone that can consistently have an effect on the deep passing game, the loss of star power is the more important need to fill and Paysour has proven to be a playmaker when he has gotten the opportunity.
British Brooks Looks to be Joining the RB Rotation
One of the biggest focuses for this offensive staff this offseason has been to find separation at the running back position. They started that process in the spring where Elijah Green and Omarion Hampton appeared to solidify themselves as the top two in the room. That left a fall camp battle for the third rotational spot, one that may be close to concluding with what British Brooks has shown the staff. Lindsey raved about the seventh year senior on Friday, especially his back vision and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and it would appear that he is showing him and the rest of the offensive staff why he was set to be the starter last year before the knee injury ended his season.