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UNC Football: Three Things to Watch - Spring Game Offense

Drake Maye is back, but some of his running mates are not. What will Carolina’s offense look like in 2023?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 SDCCU Holiday Bowl Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The UNC football Spring Game is this Saturday. Tar Heel fans will get their first preview of what new coordinator Chip Lindsey’s offense will look like live and in person. While the plays will be basic and vanilla, we should get a glimpse into where the depth chart stands, and what some of the new players look like in Carolina blue.

Here are three things to watch on offense.

Running back depth chart

At the beginning of last season, uncertainty loomed over the running back pecking order after British Brooks had a summer knee injury. Carolina had talent in the backfield, with returning rushers Caleb Hood and Elijah Green available, and two stud freshmen in Omarion Hampton and George Pettaway. In the early non-conference, the backs would take turns having series all to themselves, until Hampton’s fumble issues and Hood’s shoulder injury paved the way for Elijah Green to take over.

Mack Brown has said that he doesn’t want the rotating cast of backs, but needs more than just Green carrying the rock going forward. Hampton probably has the higher ceiling, so seeing him take over the top spot would be better long term, as long as he holds on to the ball. Perhaps during summer school, the Tar Heels took a page from The Program:

George Pettaway is another player that offers something different from the rest of the group, and Mack would be wise to figure out a way to get him on the field, either catching passes out of the backfield or on special teams.

Replacing Josh Downs’ production

When Josh Downs declared for the NFL Draft (where he’s expected to go between the first and second round) he took 94 catches (more than double the amount of the second-leading receiver Antoine Green at 43) 1,029 yards, and 11 touchdowns with him.

No one man is going to replace that production by himself, but UNC has some pieces that can replicate parts of that tremendous total. When Downs was out early in the season, Kobe Paysour did an admirable job filling in the slot position. He led the team in catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns in the two games that Downs was out with a knee injury, as well as the Holiday Bowl, which both Downs and Antoine Green missed.

Georgia Tech transfer Nate McCollum has shown exciting slot catching while in Atlanta, but only had three receiving touchdowns last season (four for his career). He’ll need to bump that up if he wants to be first in line over Paysour.

Does Bryson Nesbit take the next step?

Carolina is blessed to have three tight ends that could start for most ACC programs. Bryson Nesbit, Kamari Morales, and John Copenhaver are all sure-handed vets who featured in the Drake Maye passing attack in a way they never did under Sam Howell.

From a pass-catching standpoint, Nesbit is the most intriguing prospect. Built like an oversized wideout, Nesbit has the best hands, the ability to stretch the field, and the concentration to catch tight balls in traffic. He was the third leading receiver on the team after Downs and Green with 35 catches for 507 yards and four touchdowns.

As a junior, Nesbit could put himself in a position to dominate touches in Drake Maye’s last season at Carolina, then join him in the NFL Draft. No one would blame him if he does, as it would likely mean UNC had a stellar season.