With the Tar Heel spring game now a couple of Saturday’s behind us and a couple of players putting their names into the transfer portal, Mack Brown officially concluded spring football in Chapel Hill on Tuesday when he took to the stand for the final presser of the spring. In what Brown and overall good spring, the team was able to develop more depth and come out healthy as they head towards a highly anticipated fall in Chapel Hill. Here is a look at some of our biggest takeaways from Tuesday’s presser.
Edge Rushers Beginning to Emerge
One of the main positions where Brown was hoping to find some answers this offseason was at edge rusher. As he revealed on Tuesday, spring allowed them to narrow the group that will be competing to earn reps off the edge this season. “We have six to eight pass rushers that we can work with right now,” said Brown in his post-spring presser. The goal in the fall for Brown is to find the situational role players at the position. “If you’re a run defender, let’s make sure we’ve got you in there when we think there are high percentages that we’re gonna run the ball. If it’s a passing down, let’s don’t have anybody on the field that can’t run down screens or rush the passer.” This is a testament to the depth that the Tar Heels have built at the position and the hope is that they can find two or three players that fit each of the roles above. Tomon Fox will see more action than he did in the spring, while guys like Des Evans, Chris Collins and Kaimon Rucker will be amongst the group that the staff will sort through to find the best eleven to put on the field.
Secondary Showed Major Improvement This Spring
Brown said heading into the spring that the safety spots were going to be reevaluated despite all of the major contributors from a year ago returning.”We’ve really improved in our secondary,” Brown stated on Tuesday. One of the main things that Brown has seen improve this spring amongst the safeties is the communication and there is one guy that has emerged amongst the group that could add his name to the rotation at safety in the fall. “Gio Biggers is our most improved player since we got here. He can get out there and start right now. He had an outstanding three weeks of spring.” Add in the fact that Ja’Qurious Conley is cross-training at safety and the options here seem to be much stronger than a year ago. The Tar Heels have also seen the corners take another step forward, led by the fact that the corners have been playing the deep ball and catching the football much better. Dae Dae Hollins had a nice spring, as well, and will be the rotational corner behind Tony Grimes and Kyler McMichael until Storm Duck is back to full strength and Don Chapman cross-trained at both nickel and corner to continue adding depth. “You want your best 11 on the field.”
Offensive Skill Positions Continuing to Search For Answers
Brown was hoping that there would be some separation this spring at running back and wide receiver, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for the Tar Heels as of right now. At running back, the group stays relatively neck-and-neck as they head toward the fall, but there is one player that appears to have stood out amongst the group. “Ty Chandler would be the first guy to walk out there right now,” Brown told the media on Tuesday. Outside of him, the other five seems to be pretty neck-and-neck at this point. “Caleb Hood made tremendous progress but he’s still a quarterback trying to be a running back.” He has shown some flashes, as have D.J. Jones and Elijah Green, two guys that Brown just wants to see stay healthy so they can continue to compete for roles in the backfield. Meanwhile, at receiver Antoine Green was the standout of the spring at receiver and there are some other talented options that continued to show they’ll push for reps in the fall. Both Beau Corrales and Khafre Brown are expected to return for summer workouts and Josh Downs, who had a minor foot procedure after the conclusion of a fantastic spring, should also be a full go in the fall. Both of these groups will be interesting to monitor during fall camp as they sort through the bulk of talent to find the best eleven to put on the field.
Special Teams Appears to Be Showing Improvement
This was one of the first times that Brown really addressed special teams this spring and he gave a pretty in-depth look at the unit on Tuesday. Placekicker Grayson Atkins has been nearly automatic, missing just one kick all spring according to Brown and appearing much more confident than a year ago. Losing Jackson and Spottsville was a blow to the special teams units with both set to play major roles this season on each of the units, making that will be one of the major tasks for Jovan Dewitt and Larry Porter in the fall. The good news is, the return games seem to have some solid options, as both Ty Chandler and Josh Downs will have a chance to factor in both in the kick and punt return games and Ja’Qurious Conley will also in the race at kick returner.
Transfers Appear to Be Done for Now
The Tar Heels have seen two players enter the transfer portal since the conclusion of spring practice and on Tuesday, Brown explained the reasoning behind their transfers. Brown says that every position coach sat down with their respective players and discussed their role on the offense or defense, as well as their special teams value and in the case of Jackson and Spottsville, they felt like they wanted to play more and start somewhere. As of right now, these are the only players that are expected to transfer, but Brown did say that they are still talking with guys throughout the summer because things can change when guys return home.
Backup Quarterback Battle Will Extend Into the Fall, But Summer Will Be Important
As Brown said constantly throughout the spring, the backup quarterback battle will be decided in the fall, with the focus being on allowing Drake Maye to settle into being a quarterback at the college level. Maye made some nice throws during the spring and Brown said he’s much more athletic than the coaching staff thought, but Criswell also showed major improvement this offseason and played well in the scrimmages. Brown said that like one of the best quarterback battles in his time at Texas, the one between Jevan Snead and Colt McCoy, the summer will have a big barring on the ultimate outcome of this battle. “All summer these guys will compete in 7-on-7’s and player led practices. We can’t be out there to watch them, but Sam will tell us who is doing well. The players will come to you and tell you who’s playing well.” The battle will carry over into the fall, but summer should allow for a leader to emerge heading into camp.