Carolina football: four storylines for fall camp
1. A rite of August
What would fall camp be without Coach Larry Fedora being forced to field questions about the NCAA?
With the NCAA finally wrapping up its years-long probe at Carolina last fall with no sanctions, it appeared the Tar Heels would be free to finally focus on football. Then, it was revealed in July that multiple players were facing suspension for a secondary violation related to selling university-issued shoes and athletic gear.
By no means do these issues compare to the previous set of allegations, but they could ultimately leave Carolina without players for a few games and cause unnecessary distraction at a time the Tar Heels are set up for a good start to get the taste of 2017 out of their mouths.
2. One quarterback or none
Last season’s quarterback battle went down to the wire, with the announcement of a starter coming when Brandon Harris ran out with the first-team offense on the opening drive. It wasn’t long before Chazz Surratt took over, and after he got hurt, Nathan Elliott tried his hand while Harris shuffled in occasionally.
If you’ve got two (or more) quarterbacks, you’ve got no quarterbacks.
It’s imperative that either Elliott or Surratt show the coaching staff enough separation in camp to earn the job outright, leaving no ‘OR’ on the depth chart on opening day. Both players had flashes of brilliance last season, with Surratt a bit more accurate (58.5 percent) and prone to hit the big play.
3. Rebuilding the line
Even if Elliott or Surratt establishes himself as a capable starter, it won’t mean much if the Tar Heels don’t get better along the offensive line.
Four of five starters (43 combined starts) are gone from a group that wasn’t particularly strong last season, ranking 90th nationally in sacks allowed and 85th in tackles for loss. Of course, that’s a chicken-or-egg argument, with inexperienced receivers unable to get separation and young running backs missing the hole.
Charlie Heck is set at right tackle, while William Sweet and Nick Polino figure to move into the lineup on the left side. Jay-Jay McCargo looks promising at center, while right guard is totally up for grabs, with Tyler Pritchett, Billy Ross and William Barnes battling for the job.
4. Year Two for the defense
The Carolina defense was decimated by injuries last season, which forced a number of inexperienced and overmatched players into important roles. That’s never idea, but especially not with first-year defensive coordinator John Papuchis bringing in a more aggressive attack.
There’s plenty for Carolina to work with on defense, with the line mostly in tact from last season and Cole Holcomb and Jonathan Smith back at linebacker. Dominique Ross likely moves into one starting spot there, but there’s little proven depth.
In the secondary, J.K. Britt, Myles Dorn and K.J. Sails are established, but the departure of M.J. Stewart leaves a big hole, given his ability to completely remove one receiver from the equation. Patrice Rene leads the candidates for the other starting corner job, along with Greg Ross and Tre Shaw.
If a few players step up on defense, the Tar Heels are poised for a shocking jump in 2018.