Based on my quick perusal of the practice notes and press conference quotes here is my take on the major issues facing UNC heading into actual game prep for James Madison on Saturday.
- The offensive line has taken a hit with the loss of Ben Lemming and Wyatt Hicks to injury which really thins out the second unit. The offense in general is dependent upon how well the line plays in front of the QB in terms of protection and the ability of that same line to open holes up for the running game. A loss of depth in the offensive line could create issues down the road and it also inhibits Butch Davis’ ability to work the second string in more to afford these guys some experience.
- Richie Rich will start at tailback for UNC. Rich beat out Johnny White and Anthony Elzy for the slot. Elzy was hampered by injury early on which could have cost him the position. For as much attention that is given to the QB, what happens at running back will have huge bearing on how well the offense works. The running game goes a long way towards setting up the passing game and if both aspects of the offense are working well it stretches the defense out. The fact UNC is going into the season with an expected ceiling on the production at QB as well as rampant inexperience in the backfield means the offense is going to need take care of the football and hopefully take full advantage of every opportunity. Davis has said he would like to have an established starter in the backfield and not a running back my committee because it fits better with the flow of the game. I would imagine Davis will be looking for one of these guys to breakout and perform on gameday in such a way as to establish himself as the feature back.
- Speaking of the passing game, there seems to be a little dissatisfaction with how well the receivers were playing in the early part of training camp. The primary concern was that it was a one man show with Hakeem Nicks. Davis stated on Monday that Brooks Foster, Brandon Tate and Kenton Thornton have progressed enough to provide the Heels with multiple weapons within the passing attack.
- Special teams is a particular focus in Chapel Hill. The new rule pushing kickoffs back to the 30 from the 35 yard line put pressure on Connor Barth as well as the coverage team in general. If Barth can boom kickoffs to limit returns from opposing teams then the rule change will not affect UNC on that side of the ball. On the receiving end the buzz is all around Brandon Tate who is seen as someone who is capable of making big returns. Assuming the extra five yards results in more returns Tate then becomes a key player especially if he can create good field position for UNC on kickoff returns.
- Given the uncertainties on offense it will fall on the defense to do their part to keep the opposing offense off the field.
- Inside Carolina has the most up to date depth chart here.