This week has been dominated by the commitments of two longtime targets for the Tar Heels at the linebacker position. However, while those commitments and some major basketball commitments have stolen the spotlight, there have been some other storylines that may have slipped under the radar. Here are some of the storylines you may have missed from this week around Tar Heel football.
Bateman Likes The Young Talent on DL, But Still Has Concerns
We knew it would be the talk of this offseason surrounding the Tar Heel defense and it was once again one of the main focuses of Jay Bateman’s press conference on Monday. Bateman told reporters that he has seen a lot of progress from guys like Jahlil Taylor, Kristian Varner and Kevin Hester Jr. and is encouraged by the early look at true freshman early enrollee Kedrick Bingley-Jones. Still, there is a lot of concern for the Tar Heels second-year defensive coordinator about a unit that he still sees as the biggest question mark on this 2020 defense. The Tar Heels, of course, have the arduous task of replacing both Jason Strowbridge and Aaron Crawford who were major contributors for each of the last seasons. The Tar Heels have a lot of talented players that will be looking to help this team fill that production this season, but the inexperience is a reasonable cause for some uneasiness.
Howell and Surratt Take Home Rammys
The Tar Heel athletic department released their Rammy Award winners throughout this past week and two Tar Heel football players were among those to receive recognition. It started on Tuesday, when Surratt took home the award for Breakout Male Athlete. As a junior, Surratt led the Tar Heels in total tackles (115) and tackles for a loss (15.0) and finished second on the team in sacks (6.5) on the way to first team All-ACC honors. Surratt did all of this in his first season at linebacker after the move from quarterback and was a leader on a defense that showed major improvement in the first year under Bateman. That was followed on Thursday with quarterback Sam Howell earning the Male Outstanding Newcomer after an amazing freshman season. Howell set the program record with 38 passing touchdowns, a mark that also was a new true freshman record for both the ACC and NCAA. Howell finished his freshman season with a 61.4% completion percentage, 3,641 passing yards and a 38-7 TD-INT ratio.
New 247Sports Rankings Has Big Impact on Commits and Targets
247Sports released their newest set of rankings on Wednesday, one that involved a lot of fluctuation for Tar Heel commits and major targets. The biggest move up the rankings came from current commit Keeshawn Silver, who went from just inside the top 300 at No. 290 overall all the way up to No. 33 overall, as he closes in on picking up that fifth star on the second major recruiting site. He’s joined by targets Jahvaree Ritzie (No. 223 to No. 127) and Zaire Patterson (No. No. 217 to No. 191) as players that make a significant climb. Meanwhile, target Payton Page saw the biggest drop off, falling from No. 84 overall all the way down to No. 207 overall, a fall that actually dropped from a Composite 5✮ to a 4✮ and is now in danger of falling out of the Top247 later this summer. Other targets who saw major drops in the latest rankings were Kaemen Marley (dropped to No. 305), Micah Crowell (dropped to No. 314) and James BlackStrain (dropped to No. 581).
Payton Page Sets Top Three
Page suffered a big drop in the 247Sports rankings, but that didn’t stop him from releasing his final three schools on Thursday night. As expected, the Tar Heels will be battling Clemson and Tennessee down the stretch in a recruitment that looks like it might conclude sooner rather than later. While he may be dropping in the rankings, Page is still an extremely talented prospect and a guy who fits the running-stopping nose tackle spot perfectly, one that is so crucial to Jay Bateman’s defense being successful. At this time, Clemson is still a strong favorite, but we’ll see if recent commitments and a final push from the Tar Heel staff can change that.
Colby Smith Releases Top Five
Smith, another one of the biggest remaining targets in the state of North Carolina, narrowed his decision down to five schools. Once again, the Tar Heels had no trouble cracking the list, as they join Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisville and NC State as the schools that will battle it out for his talents down the stretch. As of right now, the Tar Heels have one offensive tackle committed to the class in 4✮ OT Eli Sutton.
J.J. Jones Cuts List to Ten
The first target to narrow down his list this week was the Myrtle Beach, SC product who is another major target for the Tar Heels in this class. The Tar Heels were solidly amongst the group of ten that involved South Carolina, West Virginia and Tennessee among others. The Tar Heels already have two wide receivers committed to the class, but would still like to add some size on the outside, something that Jones brings with his 6’3, 195 lbs. frame.
Zaire Patterson Down to Eight Schools
Patterson has had one of the quieter recruitments in this class, but on Saturday, he released his top schools. The Tar Heels are the lone in-state team still in the running for the 4✮ WDE prospect, joining powerhouses Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma and Notre Dame among others. Alabama and fellow finalist South Carolina are seen as the favorites right now for him, but with more focus from the Tar Heel staff likely coming, we’ll see if they can make up some ground and get themselves in the thick of this battle.
Bryce Steele Commits to South Carolina
This was expected from everything that we had been told throughout the week leading up to the commitment and Friday commitment from Raneiria Dillworth solidified that. Steele announced his commitment in a special ceremony with Rivals.com on Saturday. The Tar Heels had reportedly been in good shape with him and may have even received a silent commitment from him before things went downhill, leading to his change of heart. With his change of heart, it allowed for the Tar Heels to make one last push for Dillworth, one that worked out very well for the Tar Heels. The big question now becomes whether the Tar Heels are done at linebacker or if they would accept a commitment from 3✮ ILB Dameon Wilson.