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UNC Football: Three keys for success in Mack Brown’s first year back

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The first season of Mack Brown’s return will play a crucial role in recruiting in future cycles.

NCAA Football: ACC Media Days Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

In many aspects, Mack Brown is in a much better situation than he was in 1988. Rather than having to wait a decade for major upgrades to the football facilities in the form of the Kenan Football Center (which Brown himself never used during his first tenure), there have been key transformations without Brown even setting on the sidelines for the redux.

In 2016, Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham and then-coach Larry Fedora, among others, decided that real grass was the preferred option for Kenan Memorial Stadium.

Over two years later, this decision was reversed and the latest technology in artificial grass was installed in the 92-year-old stadium. This decision was made in no small part to Brown’s experience with it at Texas.

This week, the upgrades to the locker room, weight room, and players’ lounge were completed. Again, this was completed seemingly without hesitation from the athletic department and before the first exercises at training camp.

Not only are these elite facilities, but they bring energy and enthusiasm to returning players and recruits alike.

But at the end of the day, the product on the field is what matters to players, recruits, fans, and boosters of the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Based on Brown’s comments about the current roster on media day, along with Carolina’s success early in the 2020 recruiting cycle, here are three keys for 2019 that will influence how quickly Brown can turn the ship for UNC football.

Success at Quarterback

There is a new offensive scheme and a quarterback battle with three relatively inexperienced players. Redshirt freshmen Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder and true freshman Sam Howell are reportedly all square for the competition for the starting role.

There are a couple important considerations for the quarterback situation in 2019. Can one player emerge as the true starter? If so, this provides stability for the offense this season and clarity for future recruits.

For the last two seasons, there has been a lack of confidence in the quarterback position at UNC. Predetermined rotations regardless of situation was a trend in 2017, then situational substitutions in 2018. Both caused frustration in the fan base, but one can only speculate on how this volatility affected those in the locker room.

Each player surely wants to be “the guy.” But at the end of the day, one starter might not give the team the best chance for success. If UNC beats the teams from Durham and Raleigh and wins a bowl game, and does so with rotating quarterbacks, who will care?

In this quarterback conundrum, the pressure is on Phil Longo, Carolina’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Coming off a pitiful 2-9 season, with a new coach and new offensive system, imagine the message to a recruit if Longo molds a successful redshirt or true freshman quarterback in 2019.

If there is quarterback and team success this season, it will prove to recruits that this staff is capable of developing young quarterbacks for success at the collegiate level.

The Importance of the Defensive Coaching Staff

For the nth year it seems, the defense will be the weak point on this team, specifically in the front seven.

In the defensive backfield, you have experience with Myles Dorn, Patrice Rene, and Myles Wolfolk. There will be a new face in the other cornerback spot and early in the season, I suspect this will be the side opponents will attack.

On the line, there is experience with Aaron Crawford, Nolan DeFranco, and Jason Strowbridge. After that, all other defensive linemen are sophomores or younger, including eight freshmen and redshirt freshmen.

At linebacker, besides Dominique Ross and d-line transfer Tomon Fox, there is not much experience.

Much like Longo and the quarterbacks, Jay Bateman, Tommy Thigpen, Dré Bly, and the rest of the coaching staff has a challenge in front of them.

The focus may rest on the shoulders of Bateman. Army, in some aspects, can be limited in resources for recruiting when compared to the budgets of large Power Five programs. After two consecutive season of top 10 defensive ranks for Army, can he continue to get the most of his defense?

It is to be expected that Carolina will not be a defensive juggernaut in 2019. However, can Bateman and the staff start an upward projection?

The top recruits want to be on teams that are successful while giving themselves the best opportunities for playing time and advancement to the next level. The staff must prove in 2019 that there is dedication to defensive excellence and hopefully more talent like 2020 hard commits Myles Murphy and Cameron Roseman-Sinclair come into the fold.

Emphasis on the Running Back(s)

The running back corps of Michael Carter, Antonio Williams, and Javonte Williams is certainly the strongest on the team coming into the 2019 training camp.

A frustration of the Larry Fedora era was the seemingly misuse (or lack thereof) of talented running backs. Elijah Hood in 2016 was the most notable example of this situation.

Brown has stressed that even with the air raid offense, there will be a commitment to the running game. Will he keep his promise?

Unlike the quarterback position where one player is probably the preferred option for UNC, a two- or three-headed monster moving the chains bodes well for the offense.

Of course, the foundation of any good run game is the offensive line. Charlie Heck will be the anchor on the line in 2019 and one of the few players on the entire depth chart that can be written in permanent ink.

However, unlike position groups on the defensive side of the ball, the offensive line has plenty of depth. Perhaps with the right combinations, the line can stay as fresh as the three running back rotation.

Like any other position, the best recruits want to play. Why would a top running back prospect choose a program with no running game? Why would a running back go to a school with no one in front to clear a path?

With Heck and Carter having the potential to have successful and award winning seasons, the coaching staff can showcase these position groups in 2019 and show recruits that these are not overlooked in the pass-heavy trends throughout collegiate and professional football.


What else can Brown and the Tar Heels focus on in 2019 to breed success in future recruiting cycles? Let us know in the comments below.