UNC football has seen a fair bit of attrition prior to the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against West Virginia. The offense will certainly suffer without Drake Maye and Tez Walker, and the defense will surely miss Cedric Gray and perhaps Tayon Holloway. But the beat will go on, just with backups stepping up into the starting lineup.
Except for tight end.
Carolina went from the enviable position of having three starting caliber tight ends on the roster to zero. Kamari Morales entered the transfer portal after the regular season and has already committed to Boston College. Both Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver are out of the bowl game with lower body injuries.
That just leaves redshirt freshman Deems May (#82 in your program, #1 in your heart) as the likely starter. In his three appearances this season, May has one catch for 12 yards against Campbell. UNC is very much in unchartered territory here.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Conner Harrell and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey will have the next couple of weeks to earmark playbook pages that accentuate Harrell’s strengths. But without Drake Maye’s trio of tight ends, he’s losing one of the legs that held the offense’s table up.
This season, tight ends attracted 27% of Drake Maye’s targets. There were only three games (Minnesota, Virginia, Clemson) where tight ends had less than 25% of targets in a game, so there’s no wild variation. Tight ends are a big part of Chip Lindsey’s offense.
[Coincidentally, you can see why Morales (red column) decided to enter the transfer portal. He had become quite marginalized since the Syracuse game and wasn’t targeted at all in the final three games of the season!]
Carolina’s tight ends provided quantity, and also quality. Nesbit has made insane catches and stretched the field. Copenhaver galloped for huge chunks of yards. And all three tight ends were an important security blanket to gain extra first downs when the offense was in trouble. A young quarterback making his first start could certainly use one or two of those tight ends.
So where does that lost production come from? Perhaps Deems May can step right in and pick up some of the slack. Maybe Kobe Paysour will return from foot surgery and become the slot monster he was when Josh Downs was injured last season. Chip Lindsey could just keep smashing the “Beast Mode” button and have Omarion Hampton run the ball 30 times. Maybe Harrell gets more designed runs to show off his Ferrari-esque speed.
Whatever the solution is, for Carolina’s offense to move and put up points, Tar Heel fans are certainly going to see something different from the regular season. They’re missing too much production from the tight end spot to count on business as usual.