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Carolina Football: Catching up with spring ball

No news is typically good news, and news from spring practice has been quite limited.

Louisville v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

With the untimely exit of Carolina basketball from the NCAA Tournament, it’s time to shift some focus back to the gridiron. Unfortunately with 11 days until the spring football game, there is not that much to talk about— outside of the first practice, access has been limited and news has been tough to come by.

Here’s what I’ve got:

The cornerback depth chart is looking thin

Some bad news came out after Spring Break, as K.J. Sails announced his intention to transfer. Sails, from Florida originally, has a child in the Sunshine State and will likely look to transfer closer to home.

Sails, known for his...demonstrative play, missed the last eight games of the 2018 season. When healthy, he was perhaps UNC’s best corner, and he would’ve likely been the starter across from senior Patrice Rene come the South Carolina game. He totaled 16 starts and 15 pass breakups, and was often a lone bright spot on Carolina’s porous 2017 and 2018 defenses.

One of the guys who would’ve had some playing time appear in Sails’ absence was C.J. Cotman. Unfortunately, Cotman has announced his retirement from football due to recurring issues with migraine headaches.

Cotman played sparingly behind Sails, Rene, Greg Ross, Corey Bell, and others in his two years at Carolina, but was known for game-breaking speed coming out of high school as a 4-star recruit.

In his absence, it would appear Trey Morrison, who was pretty awesome as a true freshman at nickelback, will take over the field corner role in Jay Bateman’s scheme. Young guys including redshirt sophomore (another 4-star recruit) Tre Shaw, sophomore DeAndre Hollins, veterans Ross and Bell, and some of the new guys (looking at you, Storm Duck) to see their roles increased.

Best of luck to Sails and Cotman in their future endeavors.

Pro Day

The Heels had their Pro Timing Day last Monday, and the biggest head-turner was the performance put on by three-year starting linebacker Cole Holcomb.

Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Carolina’s leading receiver for the past two seasons, surprised some with his decision to go pro — including the NFL, who didn’t invite him to the Combine.

‘ARW’ ran a 4.46, and should be on the board for teams as an upside play in the later rounds of the draft.

Other Heels who may hear their names called on draft day include OT William Sweet and DE/LB Malik Carney. Sweet improved on his combine bench press results, pushing up the requisite 225 pounds 28 times after getting 23 reps in Indianapolis. Carney, who is the most likely Heel to be drafted, ran a 40 in the low 4.7’s, putting himself squarely into the middle rounds of the draft.

Position Changes

The most talked about one here is Chazz Surratt’s move to linebacker, where he’ll be needed. I’ll be interested to see him in the spring game.

According to various folks on Twitter, Corey Bell was getting some looks as a wide receiver— it remains to be seen if that will continue to be the case given the Sails/Cotman news. Bell missed most of 2018 with an injury, and was the target of some criticism (and a lot of passes) during the 2017 campaign.

Recruiting Class Update

The Heels secured another big-time commit, going to the deep talent pool of Gwinnett County (GA) and pulling 247Sports 4-star OT Trey Zimmerman. Zimmerman can play both guard and tackle, but at 6’6 one would hope he can stay on the outside, as Carolina’s other current O-line commit Malik McGowan is almost certainly destined for the interior line.

With Zimmerman, the Heels’ eight-man class currently sits at 9th in the 247 rankings. That’s still, in the words of Larry David, pretty, pretttttttttty good.

A couple of grad transfers on Special Teams

Rounding out the news dump is some news on who may be handling kicking duties for the Tar Heels in 2019. Per Instagram, UCLA punter Austin Kent is coming back home to play out his eligibility— he is a Charlotte native. Kent saw action in 8 games as a freshman in 2016, averaging 38.3 yards per punt on 44 boots, and did not see the field in 2017 or 2018.

The Heels also scored the transfer of Appalachian State kicker Michael Rubino. Rubino was mostly the kickoff specialist for the Mountaineers, hitting 49 touchbacks on 85 kicks this past year. He was their primary placekicker in 2016 and most of 2017, before getting upended by Chandler Staton. On his career, he hit 24 of 36 field goals and 70 of 74 extra points.

Both are likely to be designated as preferred walk-ons, as Rubino will contend with Noah Ruggles to replace the departed Freeman Jones, and Kent will compete with incoming freshman Ben Kiernan.