Monday, Mack Brown held a press conference announcing the depth chart going into UNC’s “Week Zero” game against Florida A&M. The most important announcement was that redshirt freshman Drake Maye is the day-one starter. Hopefully that will be the case well into the season, as the last thing a football team wants is see-sawing between quarterbacks. Plus, if Carolina has to start Jacolby Criswell at some point, that means Maye either underperformed or got hurt. So fingers crossed there.
We’ll discuss the quarterback position ad nauseam in the weeks and months to come, so let’s take a moment to look at three other things we learned when UNC released their first depth chart of the 2022 season.
Star freshmen running backs have to wait
It’s no secret that British Brooks was set to be the starting running back until suffering a season-ending lower body injury in camp. With the fifth-year senior out, the next man up is D.J. Jones, something of a surprise, considering the bevy of young talent Carolina has on its roster.
Jones doesn’t have the type of resume that screams “STARTER” at first glance. In his two years in Chapel Hill, he has rushed for a total of 318 yards (253 last season) and has only scored one touchdown. Against Western Carolina.
What he does have over Phil Longo’s young stable of studs—Caleb Hood, George Pettaway, and Omarion Hampton—is two years practicing the offense. Jones will not have a lot of time to grab a foothold on the starting job. If things go to plan (knock on wood) and UNC can beat up on FAMU, App State, and Georgia State, Mack Brown should be able to take a look at his roster depth in live action. If the young stars prove up to the task, D.J.’s time as the starter could be short.
Ray Vohasek keeps his job... for now
Mack Brown has been recruiting some absolute monsters on the defensive line, particularly in the interior positions. Ray Vohasek has been a net-plus for the program since he transferred in from College of Dupage, but while his floor is high, his ceiling doesn’t seem that much higher.
For Carolina to take the next step up, you’d like to see one of the five-star recruits grab the job and wrestle it away from Vohasek to see just how high the ceiling can get. Well, that’s not happening in Week Zero.
Vohasek, back for a bonus Covid season, begins his fifth year as UNC’s starting nose tackle, ahead of former five-stars Keeshawn Silver (redshirt freshman) and Travis Shaw (true freshman). Just like D.J. Jones, Vohasek will have to be on his A-game from the first snap, as the defensive line will feature plenty of rotation, which means Silver and Shaw will have tons of opportunities to impress, and possibly usurp the super-senior in the starting line-up.
Josh Downs will get all the targets he can stand
Josh Downs is back for his junior (and likely final) season in Chapel Hill, and he may set some lofty records on the back of a crazy sophomore season. The need to get him the ball has only grown due to injuries in camp.
Antoine Green suffered a shoulder injury, and will be out 6-10 weeks. Josh Downs has a stranglehold on the slot receiver spot, so the two outside receivers will be J.J. Jones and Gavin Blackwell.
The duo of Jones and Blackwell combined for four catches last season. Jones had all four of them. Three of them were against Wofford.
Carolina fans are obviously hoping that J.J. and Gavin were knee deep in the playbook and not on Fortnite, because there’s no real telling what they’re going to look like in live action this season. Drake Maye will have his safety blanket in Downs, but he’ll need to spread the ball around to keep defenses honest.
Fortunately, Jones has the size and Blackwell has the raw speed to make things interesting. Star freshman Andre Greene, who did not early enroll, will be breathing down both of their necks once he gets up to speed.
What are some other things you’re looking at with the initial depth chart? What positions look like they may change by conference play? Let us know in the comments!