Spring Practice Preview

Spring practice for the 2017 Heels officially starts next Tuesday at Navy Field at 4 PM. The Heels have many key positions that need to be filled and spring practice could be extremely important in determining who fills those needs. This will also be the first college practices for nine early enrollees and also a chance for walk-on hopefuls to earn a spot. Here's a look at what to expect in spring practice.


Feb. 28     4 PM

Mar. 2       4 PM

Mar. 7       4 PM

Mar. 9       4 PM

Mar. 21     4 PM

Mar. 23     4 PM

Mar. 25     TBA

Mar. 28     4 PM

Mar. 30     4 PM

Apr. 1       TBA

Apr. 4       4 PM

Apr. 6       4 PM

Apr. 7       4 PM

Top Five Stroylines Heading Into Spring

5. Who Becomes the New Leaders?

The Heels lost a lot of experience, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Spring practice will be the first chance for new leaders to step up. Guys like Austin Proehl, M.J. Stewart and Bentley Spain will have to be more vocal. Keep an eye on some of the young guys to become leaders, such as Jordon Brown, Myles Dorn and Tommy Hatton.

4. Who Becomes the No. 2 Option in the Passing Game?

With all that has departed in the receiving corps, someone has to step up and become the number two option behind Austin Proehl. Maybe Jordan Cunningham shows he can live up to expectations. Maybe Thomas Jackson become the next walk-on to contribute heavily. Or maybe Rontavius “Toe” Groves builds on what he showed last year in spring and summer practices. Can't forget about the TE group that could produce a surprise contributor. Which will it be?

3. The Next Starting Quarterback Is…

Mitch Trubisky is going to be with an NFL franchise when next year starts so the Heels need a new starter. Malik Zaire’s decision won't come till mid-April, so this give the current quarterbacks on the roster a shot to prove themselves. Nathan Elliott, Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd will all being laying it out on the line, hoping to impress coaches enough to give them an edge if Zaire comes to Chapel Hill.

2. Can the Heels Fix Their Offensive Woes?

At the end of last season the Heels offense was awful. The running game in particular struggled, but will have new faces this year. The offensive line must show massive improvement over what we saw late last season. Losing three starters there won't help though. Neither will have a new quarterback or just one proven receiver. This offense will have to grow up and mesh quickly.

1. How Will the Defense Adjust to Multiple Staff Changes?

The Heels lost four assistants so far this offseason, three of which came from the defensive staff. Defensive backs coach Charlton Warren left for Tennessee, defensive line Trey Scott left for Ole Miss and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik stepped away from football again. Now, a unit that was poised to take a step forward must adjust to new coaches on the staff. Defensive line coach Deke Adams was a part of Larry’s staff early in his time in Chapel Hill before he left for East Carolina. Terry Joseph comes over from Texas A&M as the defensive back coach and has a solid track record. John Papuchis was promoted to defensive coordinator, a spot he held in Nebraska and had some success in. The changes aren't crippling, but it’ll be interesting to see if the players can adjust and

Battles to Watch For

QB: This will be the battle everyone is concerned about with Mitch Trubisky heading to the NFL. With Malik Zaire’s decision still being weeks away, the Heels have to prepare as if the current quarterback options are the only ones. Nathan Elliott and Chazz Surratt enter as the favorites, but Logan Byrd will have something to say as well. This is a battle that won't be decided in the spring.

RB: The top four rushers from a year ago are gone, meaning someone has to step up into a big role. The starting gig is up for grabs and no one really seems to have an edge. Jordon Brown is the only player with a college carry, but true freshman Michael Carter and walk-on’s Jacob Schmidt and Darius Graves will use spring camp to show what they've got.

No. 2 WR: The Heels also lost their top three receivers from a year ago, leaving Austin Proehl as the only proven receiving option. The Heels will hope spring practice allows someone to emerge as the number two options. Thomas Jackson has a solid year this past season, actually hauling in more touchdowns than Proehl. Jordan Cunningham is one who is expected to take a big step, as is Anthony Ratliff-Williams. Keep an eye on players like Toe Groves and Beau Corrales to have an impact too.

O-Line vs. D-Line: This is a crucial battle that a fan hopes goes well for both sides. The offensive line was abysmal late in the season and need to begin making progress as a unit. Defensively, the line needs to get accustomed to new line coach Deke Adams quickly and provide more of a pass rush. The drill that will tell the most will be the pass protection drill. What one would hope to see is good signs from both sides throughout the drill, particularly at the guard positions on the offensive line.

No. 2 CB: With Des Lawrence gone, M.J. Stewart is now looking for a new partner in crime. Last year, none of the options really stepped forward, so spring practice could be key to help pushing someone in front. Patrice Rene and Corey Bell Jr. are the favorites, considering they saw the most time last season. Don't count out guys like Myles Wolfork, an early enrollee from a season ago, or Tre' Shaw, and early enrollee this year.

Players Who I Would Like to See Step Up

Nathan Elliott: He is the most experienced quarterback on the roster and the Heels need him to have a strong spring. If he can emerge, that would ease the concerns that the Heels have at quarterback.

Jordon Brown: Experience is once again the key and the Heels need Brown to emerge as the leader of this extremely young group. A strong spring from Brown could help to shine a light on a running back spot that is currently seeing dark times.

Juval Mollette: With the Heels losing Mack Hollins and Bug Howard to graduation, the Heels must now find an outside threat with some size. Mollette has the size at 6’4” and has already been on campus for two full seasons. The Heels are hoping Mollette can finally step up and become a threat in the receiving game.

William Sweet: Sweet filled in last year after the injury to Jon Heck and now will be counted on to take over that role full time. Sweet had trouble in pass protection and will need to take steps in the right direction in spring for an offensive line that is rebuilding.

Marlon Dunlap: Naz Jones decided to turn pro instead of returning for his senior season. Now the Heels need to find his replacement; Dunlap has the size and showed enough flashes to be that guy. If Dunlap can have a strong spring, he could be the gap stuffer the Heels have been looking for for a while.

Patrice Rene: Rene started early last year, but was surpassed by Corey Bell Jr. as the season went on. Now, with the No. 2 cornerback spot still up for grabs, Rene needs to prove that the coaches were right for starting him at times last year. A good spring could get him close to being a starter once again.

Freeman Jones: With Nick Weiler gone the Heels are in need of a kicker. Jones has shown in warm ups that he has a strong leg. Accuracy is the concern and spring practice could go a long way for Jones. This could also give him an advantage over true freshman Noah Ruggles who won't arrive till fall.

Projected Depth Chart Headed Into Spring Camp*

QB: #11 Nathan Elliott                            Jr.

       #12 Chazz Surratt                     RS Fr.

       #14 Logan Byrd                         RS Fr.

       #16 Manny Miles                            So.

RB: # 2 Jordon Brown                           So.

             Michael Carter                          Fr.

       #32 Jacob Schmidt                         Jr.

       #27 Darius Graves                          Jr.

       #33 Antonio James                         Jr.

WR: # 7 Austin Proehl                           Sr.

        #17 Anthony Ratliff-Williams         So.

        # 9 Roscoe Johnson               RS Fr.

        #28 Dante DiMaggio                     Jr.

WR: #15 Jordan Cunningham               Sr.

        # 5 Juval Mollette                          So.

        #18 Josh Cabrera                          Jr.

        #21 Devin Perry                             Jr.

SL: #48 Thomas Jackson                      Sr.

       # 4 Rontavius “Toe” Groves      RS Fr.

            J.T. Cauthen                              Fr.

      #81 Hunter Smith                            Jr.

TE: #82 Brandon Fritts                          Jr.

      #86 Carl Tucker                             So.

      #80 Jake Bargas                           So.

      #83 Garrett Walston                RS Fr.

      #87 Noah Turner                     RS Fr.

LT: #51 William Sweet                          So.

      #55 Jay-Jay McCargo              RS Fr.

LG: #58 Nick Polino                             So.

      #72 Mason Veal                            So.

             Quiron Johnson                     Fr.

C: #52 Tommy Hatton                          So.

    #69 Jonathan Trull                          Sr.

    #78 Layton Barber                    RS Fr.

RG: #76 R.J. Prince                             Sr.

             Jonah Melton                         Fr.

      #57 Tyler Pritchett                   RS Fr.

RT: #75 Bentley Spain                         Sr.

     #67 Charlie Heck                           So.

     #79 Luke Elder                        RS Fr.

DE: #17 Dajaun Drennon                     Sr.

      #95 Tyler Powell                            Sr.

             Jake Lawler                            Fr.

      #55 Jason Strowbridge                 So.

      #96 Matt Gampe                           Jr.

      #58 Josh Strickland                      Jr.

NT: #49 Jeremiah Clarke                     Jr.

     #94 Marlon Dunlap                        So.

            Jordon Riley                            Fr.

DT: #92 Aaron Crawford                      So.

     #97 Jalen Dalton                            Jr.

     #93 Robert Dinkins                        Jr.

            Xach Gill                                 Fr.

DE: #53 Malik Carney                          Jr.

      #12 Tomon Fox                             So.

      #33 Allen Cater                             So.

      #91 Nolan DeFranco               RS Fr.

      #98 Connor Barringer                   Sr.

SLB: #23 Cayson Collins                     Sr.

        #20 Dominique Ross                  So.

        #30 Hunter Crafford                    Sr.

        #57 Marlon Petty                         Sr.

MLB: #10 Andre Smith                         Jr.

        #25 Ayden Bonilla                       Jr.

        # 7 Jonathan Smith                    So.

WLB: #36 Cole Holcomb                     Jr.

         #42 Tyrone Hopper             RS Fr.

         #54 Johnathan Sutton               So.

         #44 Sam Blobe                          Jr.

CB: # 6 M.J. Stewart                           Sr.

      # 9 K.J. Sails                                So.

      #11 Myles Wolfork                  RS Fr.

             Tre’ Shaw                              Fr.

      #24 Zach Goins                            Jr.

      #48 Robert James                        Jr.

CB: # 5 Patrice Rene                          So.

      #18 Corey Bell Jr.                        Jr.

      #20 Thomas Brown                     Jr.

      #28 Simeon Gatling               RS Fr.

      #13 Jesse Cuccia                        Jr.

FS: #21 Myles Dorn                           So.

      # 8 Greg Ross                       RS Fr.

      #29 J.K. Britt                               Jr.

      #35 Chris Ripberger                   Sr.

SS: #15 Donnie Miles                        Sr.

      #16 D.J. Ford                              So.

      #27 Jaye Stackhouse                 So.

K: #98 Freeman Jones                      Jr.

   #95 Tolson Jeffery                         Jr.

   #90 Connor Albrecht                     Jr.

P: #39 Tom Sheldon                         So.

   #91 Hunter Lent                            Jr.

LS: #41 Kyle Murphy (K)                  Sr.

     #61 Tommy Bancroft (P)            Jr.

KR: #17 Anthony Ratliff-Williams     So.

      # 4 Rontavius “Toe” Groves RS Fr.

      #21 Myles Dorn                         So.

PR: # 7 Austin Proehl                       Sr.

      # 4 Rontavius “Toe” Groves RS Fr.

            Michael Carter                     Fr.

*Does not include summer enrollees or suspended players

My Planned Trip

The plan right now is to head to Chapel Hill for the first day of practice and get an in person look at this years team. I hope to be able to interview some players and coaches after practice, as well. If Annie Hanson allows me to, I will be in Chapel Hill on February 28th.