There is playing time available. That’s what Larry Fedora and his staff have to sell as they hit the recruiting trail to put together the Class of 2018. After a 3-9 season, of course, nothing is certain on the depth chart, but with the graduations of 14 players on the offense/defense two-deep, there are spots aplenty.
Obviously, Fedora and co. will bring in players who are eager to see the field, and some true freshmen could very well fill these spots. For now, however, we don’t really know who they’ll be. Let’s take a look at some particular areas of need.
Carolina used three seniors and two graduate students in the rotation on the offensive line this season. The biggest loss is left tackle Bentley Spain, who has been entrenched here since his sophomore season. With 11 career starts under his belt, including two this season at left tackle, Charlie Heck would appear to be the natural candidate to slide in here. However, he’ll be pushed, however, by William Sweet, who missed much of 2017 due to injury and started at right tackle when Heck stepped in for Spain. It may indeed be Sweet at left tackle and Heck at right after all is said and done.
At center, Jay-Jay McCargo did a nice job stepping in for Cam Dillard on occasion this season. And Nick Polino started at left guard early in the season, as Khaliel Rodgers missed time after walking away from football for a time. R.J. Prince will be tough to replace at right guard. There’s real opportunity there for someone to step forward.
Austin Proehl, Jordan Cunningham, Josh Cabrera, Thomas Jackson and Devin Perry all depart. That’s a raft of wideout production, but the Tar Heels also lost a lot last year, and Perry, Cabrera and Cunningham were among the players who stepped in to produce. Anthony Ratliff-Williams returns, and he’s got to be Preseason All-ACC next year. And postseason, if he makes another leap like he did from 2016 to 17. Beau Corrales came through in the clutch for the Heels, Dazz Newsome could be dynamic if he’s as good catching the ball as he is carrying, Roscoe Johnson showed flashes of potential, and, if he’s healthy, Rontavious Groves could be a star.
Incoming freshman Jordyn Adams could be the breakout player here, however. The son of Carolina defensive line coach Deke Adams, Jordyn was the subject of an intense recruiting battle and figures to see the field right away.
Cayson Collins was the best young player on a bad defense in his freshman season in 2014, took time to adjust to a new defense in 2015, made the play of the season in 2016 and was a solid leader in 2017. Carolina will miss his leadership even more than his production. Andre Smith will be a senior leader who can produce for the Heels from the middle. He may finally be able to play alongside Jonathan Smith next season, which would be nice. Cole Holcomb is a solid player as well and he should only be better as a senior.
There’s playing time available on the weak side, however. Maybe that’s where Jonathan Smith goes. Smith himself is high on Malik Robinson, and redshirt freshman Kayne Roberts drew raves in training camp prior to the season.
The youth has played well at defensive back of late, though the Tar Heels must replace M.J. Stewart and Donnie Miles, two leaders who played throughout their careers. Myles Dorn and J.K. Britt are solid at safety, Maybe Myles Wolfolk, who had a nice redshirt freshman year, becomes a full-timer at corner and nickelback.
There’s playing time available, and the spring and next summer will feature several position battles, including at quarterback, which we’ll get to later. But high school players considering the Tar Heels ought to know that if they’re good enough, they can see the field early in their careers. The 2017 season was not a good one in the win-loss column, but there’s plenty to build on.