Heel Tough Blog: Spring Game Recap

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The Tar Heels concluded spring camp for the 2021 season on Saturday with the spring game from a rainy Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels defeated Carolina 14-12, with thirteen total series between the two sides giving us a look at just everyone on the Tar Heel on the roster before they head into the spring. Here is a look at some of our biggest takeaways from Saturday’s spring game.

The Offensive Line Has Some Good Depth

We have heard a lot about the Tar Heel defensive line and their performance so far this spring, but on Saturday, it was the team’s offensive line that dominated in the trenches. The first team unit had a bit of a slow start on their first drive of the day, but recovered with some strong drives the rest of their time on the field, doing a good job in pass protection allowing quarterback Sam Howell to make a couple of nice deep throws down the field and find the endzone on consecutive drives for the Tar Heels only scores of the day. The second team also had a strong showing, especially on their first two drives of the day. On the first scoring drive by either side, the second-team offensive line unit simply dominated the first-team offensive line unit, helping clear the way for some big runs and an eventual touchdown scamper from Josh Henderson. Even the third unit that eventually entered the game looked solid, showing just how much depth this group has been able to build up in the spring and should only continue getting stronger as they get into fall camp.

True Freshmen Will Push For Reps on the Defensive Side of the Football

Saturday was a good look at some of the Tar Heels true freshmen early enrollees who reportedly had a strong spring overall as a collective group. Not only was this a great look at what the future could be, but it also showed that some of these true freshmen, mainly on the defensive side of the football, will challenge for a role on this team this season. The standouts among the true freshmen were the two inside linebackers in Power Echols and RaRa Dillworth, who both had some of the best days amongst the Tar Heel linebackers. Both guys were flying around the field and found themselves in the backfield quite a few times as the day went along and with the depth here being thin in proven experience, there is plenty of opportunity for them to slide into those backup roles behind Jeremiah Gemmel and Eugene Asante. Meanwhile, on the defensive line, Mack Brown has been impressed by both Jahvaree Ritzie and Keeshawn Silver all spring and while Silver was a bit quiet in this one, Ritzie made a couple of nice plays early on as part of the second-team defensive line against the team’s primary offensive line unit. Expect both of these talented young defensive linemen to challenge for roles in the defensive line rotation as they head into the fall.

The Backup Quarterback Battle Will Be a Good One in the Fall

Heading into the game, the latest comments from Mack Brown in his press conference pointed to the fact that Jacolby Criswell had been the better of the two quarterbacks battling for the backup job behind Sam Howell, something that was expected. With that, if Criswell had been able to put on a strong performance in this one, he may have been able to give himself a slight advantage over true freshman Drake Maye heading into the summer. However, as Maye showed in this one, this will be a race that will be neck-and-neck to begin fall camp in August. Maye may have only finished the day 3-8 for 19 yards, but he made some nice throw down the field and showed some good awareness and mobility outside of the pocket that should have people excited about the future of the talented, young gunslinger. Brown said that the focus with Maye has been for him to get used to practicing at the college level during the spring and that competing for the backup role was something that was going to be the focus come fall camp. Saturday showed that Maye, at the least, will have what it takes to make this a great competition.

The Running Back Group Looks to Have Some Promising Options

This is the unit that seems to generate the most concern from people when they talk about the 2021 Tar Heels, but as they showed on Saturday, this is a solid group that has some talented options. Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler saw the first reps for the Tar Heel team and looked good on his two carries that netted him ten yards. Sophomore D.J. Jones struggled to find holes, but he is still a guy that has plenty of talent and shined in the Western Carolina game late last year. Those are the two players that many feel are atop the depth chart at this point, but the best performances on Saturday came from the guys in the group of four that will likely enter the fall battling to earn that No. 3 spot in the backfield. Junior Josh Henderson looked great on the second drive of the game, showing some strong back vision and looking much more decisive than his first couple of years on campus. True freshman Caleb Hood was the early enrollee that stood out the most on the offensive side of the football, as he had a nice day, rushing for 35 yards on his six carries and showing plenty of promise for his future, especially in between the tackles.

Saturday’s Game Was a Must-See Event

Even though the forecast wasn’t great on Saturday, the list of expected recruits in attendance was about as loaded as any in recent memory, especially for a spring game, the list that Don Callahan reported on the latest edition of Inside Carolina’s The Scoop podcast to around 50 plus included a bunch of major targets in the 2022 and 2023 recruiting, headlined by some major in-state targets. With the NCAA recruiting dead period not ending until June 1st, this was not an invitation event, meaning that all of the recruits who attended chose to make the trip to Chapel Hill as spectators for the event and lead themselves around campus. This just shows that Tar Heel football, even a spring game, has become a big event and one that recruits are willing to travel for.

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