With the Tar Heels returning to the practice field following the conclusion of the team’s spring break, Mack Brown returned to the podium to get an update on what has happened so far. Unfortunately, prior to the news conference getting underway, the team released some news about a long term injury that will affect the defensive front this season.
Sophomore edge rusher Malaki Hamrick is “likely done for the year” the program announced earlier this afternoon due to a non-contact injury to the lower body. The injury will require surgery, leading to the significant recovery time.
Hamrick played in all 13 games a year ago on special teams and took 81 snaps defensively. He was set to have a bigger role this season at the JACK position for the team as he battled for the backup role behind Florida State transfer Amari Gainer. Hamrick also helped to provide some depth at inside linebacker for the team early last year and was expected to do the same if he had to this season.
His absence will force some young to step up and puts pressure on Gainer to play at a high level. Sophomore Gabe Stephens is the most experienced player behind Gainer at the JACK, but he has yet to play in a college game. As for the two true freshmen, Jaybron Harvey and Tyler Thompson, they are in camp with the team, which is a good sign, but asking them to play major roles at their size might be a little too much to ask. That means Gainer will have to be able to play the majority of the reps here this season and when he is off the field, Kaimon Rucker will probably take some of the reps there like he did a year ago after Noah Taylor’s injury.
As for the linebacker depth, this was already an area of concern for Mack Brown and that concern has grown even more with this injury. Sebastian Cheeks’ eventual return to full contact from the season ending injury that cost him all but three games last season will be big, but he is the most experienced player in terms of defensive snaps amongst the unit behind the two starters. That means that one or two of the younger guys will have to step up from a group that involves sophomore Deuce Caldwell, early enrollees Amare Campbell and Michael Short and summer enrollee Caleb LaVallee. Brown comments when combined with this injury may also mean the team considers bringing in another transfer if they don’t feel confident with what they see in the spring.