In his first offseason as UNC’s head coach on this side of the millennium, Mack Brown has been consistent about not seeing this year as a rebuilding year, despite the team having won 5 games (two Power 5 games and both against Pittsburgh) in the past five years. “We want to win, and we want to win now” has been basically his mantra about his approach to the upcoming season. On Thursday, we got a little more specific about what he sees with the roster he’s inherited, especially as they learn completely new schemes on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. As Chad covered in his recap, he noted some overall trends first, including noting that the sophomore and junior classes this year are a little lean and that the overall roster is a little lacking in depth. Per Tar Heel Illustrated, here’s what he said specifically about each position group:
There was nothing really new here. The three quarterbacks, who we’ve touched on a few times on this website, are allegedly dead even heading into the fall. Brown noted that cutting down on turnovers has been an emphasis for all three after the change in scheme (and for Sam Howell, the upgrade to college competition) led to a lot of turnovers in spring practice for all three of them. But he likes their overall talent; he’s said that he would have recruited all three of the contenders to Texas were he still there.
I told Shakin’ The Southland last week that running back was almost definitely UNC’s strongest position. Coach Brown apparently agrees:
The strength of this team right now would be running backs. To me, all three are really good. Michael Carter, so fast in space, Javonte Williams I think may be a superstar. He’s 220 pounds and can fly. And then you take Mr. [Antonio] Williams, he can do everything. He’s special teams tough, he’s a leader, he’s the guy for everything we do.
Javonte Williams has been turning heads since he stepped on campus, and it looks like he’s taken another step still for his sophomore year. It’ll be interesting to see how the three are rotated this year after Antonio Williams took most of the snaps last year; it seems there’s a chance he might be third in the pecking order now.
Wide Receiver/Tight End:
“Wide receiver can be [good, but] I don’t think we’re there yet. We’ve got a few. Dazz [Newsome] has been really good, but we’ve got to catch balls… and we’ve got to make sure we get free in space.”
Wide receivers finding space is a key tenet of Longo’s offense, so that being a concern is a little bit disconcerting. Drops, on the other hand, should fix themselves; whenever that’s your biggest problem with receivers you’re usually frustrated, but thankful. Newsome was UNC’s best receiver down the stretch last year and it seems like he might be ready to pick up where he left off.
This is surprising, based on how little we’ve seen of the rostered tight ends:
Tight ends will be a strength. I think they can run and play.
Carl Tucker has so far done everything asked of him really well, but his role has been limited both by scheme and injury. Longo’s offense just got Dawson Knox drafted from Ole Miss into the NFL, so he may have more opportunity to shine in 2019.
Chad noted in his roster recap that the offensive line as a whole has gotten significantly leaner in what looks to have been a point of emphasis for the staff. With less bulk, though, you need some nasty, and that’s still a work in progress, apparently:
Offensive line to me has got to get tougher, just their mentality. There’s some talent there, but they gotta get tougher.
Defensive line is really good with the first group (but) there’s no depth.
Nothing we didn’t know already. Hopefully some of the newcomers, such as Tomari Fox and Brant Lawless-Sherrill, can help out in this regard.
Linebacker, to me, is all over the place a little bit. You’ve got young guys that are talented but nobody’s really [cemented themselves]... Gemmel’s good, he’s got to get stronger. Dominique Ross is a really good pass rusher (but) he’s got to get better in space.
Brown also noted several newcomers such as Khadry Jackson, Eugene Asante, and the converted quarterback Chazz Surratt as guys he hasn’t really seen play yet. I’ll add here that Matthew Flint was a guy I loved last year and who made a lot of plays on special teams, and hopefully he can fill some of the gaps that Brown is seeing on what is widely considered UNC’s biggest problem area.
I think we’re going to be good, we’ve just got to figure out who one of the corners is going to be. Patrice [Rene] is playing really well. You’ve got the other [group,] safeties[,] I think we’ll be fine with [Myles] Wolfolk and especially with Myles Dorn...
Again, the primary issue here is depth; UNC doesn’t have much proven at safety behind the two Myleses and outside cornerback is going to be filled by somebody who hasn’t seen many snaps whether it be Storm Duck, Cam’Ron Kelly (if his waiver goes through), or Greg Ross back from injury. It’s a veteran group, though, and with improved run defense, it should be able to limit some of the breakdowns that happened at inopportune moments last year. Dorn got a little lost in how overmatched last year’s defense was in having to compensate for an inept passing offense, but he had a phenomenal sophomore year and was still able to show off his skills at times last year. I think he’ll have a huge season.
Over the month leading up to UNC’s first game, we at Tar Heel Blog will be going in-depth into each position group to see what exactly the revamped coaching staff is dealing with at each level of the field. But this gives us a starting point, and more importantly, a clearer image of what Mack Brown sees beyond his own hopes for the season. It’s going to be, if nothing else, a wild ride starting in 41 days. We’ll keep you posted on everything we can get about the team leading up to it.